Old School Dungeons & Dragons: Wizards of the Coast’s Problem Child

As Dungeons and Dragons became more rulebound and combat-oriented, some players revived older, more expressive forms of the game. But is the Old School Renaissance itself just more nerd fundamentalism?

Over time, the rules governing classic role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons changed and took on a weight of their own. Role-playing elements sank into a mire of charts and tables and special abilities. This rules-heavy play really took hold when, in the late 1990s, publisher TSR was suffering financially. Wizards of the Coast, coasting on the sales of card game Magic: The Gathering, bought them out.

Not surprisingly, D&D—the way it was packaged and the way it was played—started to look a lot like Magic. The emphasis was heavy on combat, skills, and special feats. For many people D&D became more about creating quasi-Medieval superheroes than adventurers looking for the simple things like treasure, or a little boost in their archery ability.

What Wizards of the Coast did was take an experience so open as to allow group improvisation, and turn it into a tabletop game where the players merely pretend that they are the miniature figurines pushed around on a combat grid. Playing D&D began to mean buying all kinds of other stuff. Where figurines were once optional, the new rules made them essential, along with cardboard tiles and an enormous number of supplements. (The newest version of D&D has three different Players Handbooks).1

To put it another way, Dungeons & Dragons has become a game preferring combat to role-playing. It favors prefab characters acquiring new skills and powers over a character that the player comes to identify with; a character whose development determines the course of the game.

In the wake of this, a small but mighty band of mostly middle-age gamers has tapped into a larger current of nostalgia that (like vinyl records and analog synthesizers) is trying to recapture the interactions with ideas and people that digital media have all but made obsolete.

Sometimes referred to as the Old School Renaissance (OSR), this loose gathering of gamers and designers are bound by a common message: all you really need to play a table-top fantasy role-playing game is notebook paper, pencils, dice and a few charts you can download for free.

OSR is also representative of a current obsession with how open things used to be, and with how much the culture and technology felt more participatory. When they were growing up, we weren’t just consumers, but pioneers. It was about being able to crack things open and look inside, and maybe even come up with your own changes&mash;be it computers, or audio hardware, or game rules. It’s about fighting back a little against a culture of consumption that's become stripped of its sense of participation, where everything is ready made and sealed, where you can’t even be trusted to change your own batteries.

It was copyright law, however, that made the old school renaissance possible. Copyright can be very complicated, especially in the internet age, but one thing remains clear: you cannot copyright game rules. You can copyright their presentation, the associated artwork, and the accompanying text, but not the rules themselves: that a dwarf gets a constitution bonus +1 cannot be copyrighted.

The earliest iterations of OSR games, like the Old School Reference and Index Compilation, are simply various editions of the early D&D rules with new art and accompanying text offered as PDFs (often free) or print-on-demand at cost. While many felt the original D&D had a kind of biblical authority, others realized that since the rules were not protected by copyright, they could be modified. Creators started to offer their own brand of old-school RPGs such as Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Dungeon Crawl Classics, not only fixing what they thought was broken, but re-instilling the game with all that was gloriously weird and pulpy about the early years.

Wizards of the Coast finally got around to acknowledging that some people like to play the earlier versions of the game and, seeing a small but flourishing market, tried to capture the spirit of OSR with a number of publishing initiatives. The first started in 2012, with the reprints of the three core books of the first edition of AD&D; The Monster Manual, The Players Handbook, and The Dungeon Masters Guide. This year Wizards published Unearthed Arcana—the much-maligned collection of Gygax’s Dragon Magazine writing—and Dungeons of Dread, an anthology of the four original TSR AD&D adventures.

The books are lovingly bound, detailing on the cover one small aspect of the original art. The books include a "red ribbon" bookmark: the universal publishing shorthand for “collector’s edition.” The paper stock used is high gloss and heavy weight, but feels kind of cheap, as if photocopied. To preserve some of the lighter drawings, the printing tends to be too dark, giving and almost-wet look to much of the art. The book most undermined by this is Dungeons of Dread: none of the colors in the art are preserved, and the lack of removable maps and other supplemental material makes it a difficult book to use.

The bigger news earlier this year is the online PDF store Dungeons and Dragons Classics where for a few bucks you can download the “classic” D&D material, including the Basic and Expert guides, as well as versions 2.0, 3.0, and 3.5. The site is not actually run by Wizards, but piggybacked onto the terrific DriveThru RPG, a stellar resource for role-playing. There are missed opportunities here, including not making these available as print-on-demand, an option that has become central to OSR culture.

A more cynical observation, and one I can’t help but make, is that the cost to post these items online is negligible. The operators are able to make a profit on material that it had no hand in producing—content that has long been available in OSR clones. This is not to say that it isn’t terrific to have these items available, as some of them are fairly collectible and Wizards deserves credit for buying TSR when the alternative might have been the end of the game itself. But there is something uninspired in the whole effort. It is as if Wizards does not really see new value in the old D&D material, but merely recognizes the opportunity to make money from those who do.

Nevertheless, reading through these items—particularly the AD&D hardcovers—is a joy. Here is Gygax describing playing a character: “Each of you will become an artful thespian as time goes by—you will acquire gold, magic items, and great renown... This game lets all your fantasies come true... Enjoy, for this game is what dreams are made.” Sure, it’s over the top. But it evoked wonder.

Maybe we don’t need to keep looking back. Is the spirit of OSR really just a bunch of throwback nerds, staring into the abyss? The biggest criticism of OSR, voiced by bloggers such as RPGpundit, is that what Gygax and Arneson were trying to do was create something new that would rattle the cages of the hardcore wargamers and make games something that were more open, less restrictive. Today’s old-school misanthropes are merely holding fast to something without any kind of creative impetus to push roleplaying into new territories. In this respect, OSR is itself a kind of fundamentalism. OSR gamers counter this by arguing innovation in D&D has merely meant more rules. And more rules means less wonder, less imagination.

Child psychologist Donald Winncott describes the pure play of youth, where an unboundedness is the required work of a healthy developing mind, and continues to be an vital part of being an authentic self into adulthood. Is this was role-playing is about? Authenticity? And is someone supposed to find authenticity imagining they are, say, a magic-user in search of arcane lore?

For the last year, once or twice a month if we’re lucky, some friends of mine gather to play AD&D. We’ve ended some sessions without any combat or dice rolling at all, all that precious time we are able to get away from our other responsibilities spent elaborating on a world and its inhabitants that has no other meaning outside of these hours together. I can’t be sure this is how Gygax and Dave Arneson meant the game to be played, but they certainly invented a game that never makes us feel like we are cheating for not adhering to every table and chart. And they also made a game capable of unbounded play, where I don’t have to pretend to be kid to pretend that I am not me.

[1] But one of the more telling changes in the D&D rules is not about the rules at all. The first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons’ Dungeon Masters Guide includes an Appendix N: Inspirational and Educational Reading, in which Gary Gygax reminisces about his father telling him fairy tales, as well as a list of books he names as inspiration behind much of the D&D game’s original inception. Appendix N also includes a remarkable little nugget: that the major influence on D&D’s gameplay is not J.R.R. Tolkien, but Edgar Rice Burroughs and Fritz Leiber, among others. No subsequent edition of D&D included an appendix of this sort.

Illustration courtesy of Shutterstock.

Published 7:19 am Mon, May 6, 2013

About the Author

Peter Bebergal is the author of Too Much to Dream: A Psychedelic American Boyhood recently published by Soft Skull Press. He blogs at mysterytheater.blogspot.com.

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200 Responses to “Old School Dungeons & Dragons: Wizards of the Coast’s Problem Child”

  1. wylkyn says:

    Rules don’t prevent role-playing. You can role-play a game of chess (and I have). This version-hatred is nothing but nostalgic people grumping about the new, as always. I’ve been playing D&D since 1980, and there has been no version that has come out which has prevented my role-playing in the slightest.

    • GlyphGryph says:

       But rules can certainly IMPACT roleplaying. The mechanics of a game change the mood. They provide support. All the roleplaying in the world doesn’t matter if the mechanics ultimately decide what happens. See: The difference between RPGs built to encourage roleplay, and those built to minimize it. Paranoia versus Hackmaster.

      Now, this can be overcome by a skilled game master who’s willing to ignore the rules, and push his own emphasis onto the game effectively enough. Or by a group of players skilled and committed to roleplaying even in situations that don’t encourage it. But it certainly becomes harder, especially with a newer, more hesitant, or less skilled group of players.

      It’s not that you CAN’T roleplay with a variety of rules. It’s just that building the rules in certain ways is effectively the system telling you that you really shouldn’t bother.

      • A Viescas says:

        This is true but basically irrelevant.

        Neither old-school nor new-fangled DnD do much of anything to encourage OR restrain roleplaying. They “ultimately decide what happens” by rolling dice. 

        Personally, I don’t think the edition wars has anything to do with “roleplaying” at all.

        • Marja Erwin says:

          Except that all of them have class-based systems which, while useful as a first step towards roleplaying games, ultimately get in the way of roleplaying all those character concepts who don’t fit the character classes.

          • A Viescas says:

            Restricting chargen choice != inhibiting roleplaying. 

            OD&D had incredibly broad and wide classes that allowed for filling in blanks and customization for characters.

            ND&D (to coin a phrase) replaced that with many different classes (often emphasizing multi-classing) such that classes could reasonably fit within their published settings and spinoff products.

            Now, there are many character ideas that aren’t represented by PC classes (which are designed to encourage “adventurer-type” characters exploring dangerous dungeons), but I wouldn’t say this is a weakness of the system–if anything, the restrictions channel story creation along certain lines and can actually foster creativity more than “open-ended” settings such as GURPS. Ultimately, no one system can facilitate all stories.

            There are roleplay advantages to abandoning class-based chargen (I’m a fan of lifepath-based chargen myself), but the idea that classes somehow “get in the way” isn’t really one of them.

          • Marja Erwin says:

            It may not get in the way for you, but it gets in the way for me, and for the kinds of characters I want to play.

          • A Viescas says:

            The question then is that a flaw of the system, or a flaw in your expectations? 

            If you don’t want to play a character the system doesn’t support, that isn’t the fault of the system.

          • Marja Erwin says:

            If the system doesn’t support the characters I’m interested in playing, and emphasizes adventure-styles and -themes I’m not especially interested in, then it’s useless to me, fault or no fault.

          • A Viescas says:

            That’s… nice? Classes still doesn’t “get in the way” of “roleplaying.” You’d have the same problem with a non-class-based system where the character options were geared in a particular direction.

          • Marja Erwin says:

            Yes. I’ve seen that problem with skill-based systems too. But it’s easier to adjust the professions or adjust the skill list in skill-based systems than it is to create new classes in class-based systems where class abilities are paramount.

          • A Viescas says:

            You don’t have to create new classes to get new characters though, especially after 3E where basically all classes have either a number of variant class features or feature classes built to occupy the same niches as traditional classes but with different class features.

            4E gets rid of the idea of class focus by introducing the idea of party roles (which can contribute to but don’t determine how a character is roleplayed)

            Even beyond that there are games with classes that give similar amounts of leeway. Legend uses Tracks to determine character abilities instead of automatically assigning by class, while Dungeon World does a similar thing with Moves (except that progression isn’t limited to one track). Each of them encourage additional Tracks, substitutions, and Moves (which are about as easy to make as an additional skill application, as that’s what they basically are)

          • Marja Erwin says:

            I haven’t played D&D 4E, but I have had trouble fitting my setting-appropriate character concepts into D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder. First, there are too many gaps between the character classes. Additional books which I’m not about to buy cover some of the gaps, but not others. Second, there are too many special abilities. With a well-written skill-based system, I can come up with a playable character that matches the concept. I think *Savage Worlds* is buggy, but it allowed me to create the character, as I’d intended, in half an hour, while *Pathfinder* forced me to give up and create another character entirely after several hours over a few days. And I didn’t know how to use the class special abilities and nearly got us killed for it.

          • A Viescas says:

            Yeah, I’d definitely agree that the 3E line lacks refinement (while earlier systems are inflexible); I just don’t think it’s fair to generalize all class-based systems based on that small game-ecological niche.

          • Niles Calder says:

            Only the older editions don’t limit character concepts at all. I’m currently running an OSR FLAILSNAILS compatible DnD game using Lamentations as my core rules. 60% of my players turned up with characters built using 3.5. It was incredibly simple to wind the characters back to simpler times without touching their core concepts. Half Orc Monk? Keep the dark vision base them off a cleric, better fighting, different weapons restrictions, bare hand attack, limited spell list as Chi powers, BOOM done. Half Elf Paladin? Mix fighter and elf (race-as-class), replace MU spells with limited clerical spell list, add a bunch of restrictions and a few “powers”, oh and a penalty after they use their divine gifts because it conflicts with their other worldliness; BOOM. Finally Elf Ranger? Easiest of the lot. Nature theme the MU elements and ranger theme the fighter elements.

          • jason kielbasa says:

            I really don’t know how you can talk about the OSR and not mention Constantcon and FLAILSNAILS in the article..

          • Marja Erwin says:

            But 3.5 channels character creation in certain directions. I’m not surprised that it’s possible to create characters from later versions in earlier versions.

            If your concept already includes a D&D class, it’s probably going to fit within a D&D class, or at least close to the style of some of the other D&D classes. It gets a bit harder when your concept is a refugee or an outcast, who has become a lay and largely non-magical healer…

          • Niles Calder says:

            Not especially. Take a ranger, strip out something or tweak their combat abilities to a more rogue/thief scale, bolt in a healing system. With Lamentations I’d literally point at the Specialist class and negotiate with you from there. In any OSR system I’d be tempted to give you an at-will healing ‘spell’, with the promise of higher level ‘spells’ as you progressed and restrictions such as time it takes to ‘cast’, ‘material components’ and penalties to those healed in such a manner. Because really bed rest is a must. :)

          • Fnordius says:

            Not all of them: I still am a big fan of Traveller and GURPS. Traveller did have classes of a sort, but only in generating the character — adventurers were *former* scouts, *former* merchants, and so on. And GURPS one of the first to pioneer not using classes at all, something that was a little too open-ended for a lot of players.

            Classes basically are what some games inherited from the old tabletop wargames, where units were infantry, cavalry, artillery, and so on, and the levels the evolved form of “raw”, “green”, “veteran”, “elite”, etc. The games I ended up loving didn’t have these tabletop roots, and so their rules were more geared to doing stuff other than fighting, but where GM fiat needed to be tempered by dice nonetheless.

          • Gilbert Wham says:

             Plus, buying dice was a lot easier for Traveller…

          • Traveller was a fun game. I played Classic Traveller (little black book edition) for a while.

          • Jenevieve DeFer says:

             Remember that GURPS was influenced highly by Hero Game’s Champions system.
            I like Traveller’s career system as well. It was one of the first of the Skill based systems. Career choice only influenced Skill Availability for the Character.
              Champions had that nifty Point based system with the linear Point cost which was pretty to understand. Also there is a power section that gives you the tools to create any ability seen on a character from any source. The math for powers looks daunting, but is actually really easy once you understand how it works.

        •  Edition Wars has a lot to do with roleplaying. In AD&d 2º Edition a wizard was a robbed weird guy who cannot protect himself for the first nine levels, in D&d 4th Edition a wizard is virtually equal to a fighter from level one.
          THAT impacts a lot roleplaying.
          Also, the fucked up Forgotten Realms. (I had to say it!)

          • A Viescas says:

            If you don’t like how the game actually became balanced, insist that characters start at different levels and the roleplaying problem is solved!

            And FR has very little to do with editions at all–everything it introduced was optional.

          • A fighter, a wizard and a rogue dealing exactly the same amount of damage per round with just a name swap.

            That´s not balance, that homogenization.
             

          • A Viescas says:

            If three classes are doing the exact same thing in game someone’s (or three someones) fucked up their character options. You *can* do the same things with the same class niches, but it’s hardly some sort of a requirement.

          • Or play a different game that does it for you by default, like Old-school D&D.

          • A Viescas says:

            Exactly! See, no meaningful difference!

          • Fnordius says:

            I agree, in that the older versions tried more to simulate the different professions, but the later versions tried to balance the dungeoneering party. This reinforces what the article was pointing out, the roots that the game designers came from. Gygax and Arneson came from tabletop wargames, where the goal of the game wasn’t so much balance but simulation. The newer developers at WOTC come from a world closer to card and board games, where balance between the players and “fun”.

            Note that we don’t even talk about the genre that games like World of Darkness belonged to, where the game designers came not from gaming but from storytelling backgrounds. They still have their hardcore followers, but they didn’t have the pull that (x)D&D had.

        • Ean Moody says:

          I’m sorry, but as a person who spends their life designing interaction systems I have to disagree.

          Context is a huge driver of human interaction and attitude. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our actions are impacted by the reinforcement we receive from our environment. In the context of a game one of the strongest environmental factors is the rules. It isn’t whether they “allow” roleplaying, it’s how they interact with the choice to do so, and which player actions they tend to encourage, punish or ignore. Interestingly, most of the time you don’t even need to punish an action to discourage it: all you have to do is ignore it while rewarding other alternative actions. People will see not being rewarded as a punishment, and react as such.

          To me a great example of this in D&D is combat, and how it creates a roleplaying vs min-maxing dichotomy. The aggressive, detailed, strict rules governing combat are at direct odds with the goal of exploring characters and creating a welcoming play experience: your backstory, clever characterization, and interesting concept don’t mean shit if you don’t have the stats to survive a fight. 

          Within the game world, these combats are the most common place where your character can be killed. They exert a sort of darwinian pressure on character designs: ineffective characters die, optimized characters live. After you’ve seen your fourth quirky wizard/cleric hybrid concept die, while the greataxe-wielding fighter is still kicking? It kills people’s desire to break the mold and do interesting things. Even individual actions can be punished for being unoptimized: trying to circle someone, slip between enemies, dive tackle, or trip someone provokes punishments: extra checks, attacks of opportunities, etc. Staying still and wailing away with standard attacks makes you much safer, and over time players will start to avoid those actions that “punish” them.

          In the metagame there’s another kind of pressure that forces combat-optimized designs: time. Combat as it’s structured in D&D can make even a simple fight take an hour or more. Longer fights take even longer, and after a bit players will want to contribute just do do SOMETHING. Making a pacifist character or one who prefers not to get in the thick of fighting simply isn’t an option if you actually want to contribute to the majority of play. Combat is equally deadly for everyone (see above) so even though the rules don’t “force” you to focus on combat, they will punish you with either boredom or death if you don’t put enough focus on it.

          Contrast this with a system designed to encourage interesting play and unique characters, your FATE and Savage Worlds and similar systems. Those rules reward tying your character’s flaws and concepts into the mechanical parts of gameplay, and I’ve personally witnessed how that shift can change a player’s entire style of play and shift them from mix-max-y rules lawyers into roleplaying thespians. The player was the same, the setting was the same, but changing the rules’ reward map around created an entirely different play experience.

          • “Even individual actions can be punished for being unoptimized: trying to
            circle someone, slip between enemies, dive tackle, or trip someone
            provokes punishments: extra checks, attacks of opportunities, etc.”

            “Combat as it’s structured in D&D can make even a simple fight take an hour or more. ”

            Sounds like you have no experience playing old school D&D.  3rd and 4th edition D&D have many many fiddly bits and bonuses that drag down combat and make each single fight a huge drawn out affair, but OD&D and 1st edition AD&D had a much simpler, faster, and pared down combat system.

          • Ean Moody says:

            Fair enough. I was thinking about 3rd edition, which is where I have spent most of my time and what the comment I responded to seemed to be defending. 2nd and 1st edition were both much more freeform and simple.

        • Eros Priest says:

           Simple: My first experience with New D&D was at a gamer con.  I sat down at a table, and was helped to making a character.  I built something based on a fun back-story.  Finally, the playing begins.  Mid-way into the 2nd combat scene, I declare (I don’t even remember what it was) some fun & fantastic maneuver.  The GM and 2 of the players begin explaining to me that such things cannot be done unless I “buy” certain FEATS and such.  They then continue to explain character builds that, in time – after 8 more levels – I might be able to buy the appropriate FEATS and skills and if I’m lucky enough to have the right magical weapons to actually pull off a maneuver that Arrow Flynn would laugh at.  It wasn’t something wild either, it was something basic that I figured would be a “Called Shot” or something.  But “Cleaving” through 5 monsters in a single swing, a’ la some bad Anime is just a basic lvl 1 FEAT.  :-P  Unimaginative, but facilitating more gory and rapid combat.

          It turns out there were rules to cover what I was thinking of, but it involved using FEATS and junk from 3 different books.  “In the old days” someone would say “I wanna pull off ____!”  The GM would say “Sure, make a [STAT]-check” and then narrate a dramatic and entertaining scene.  FEATS and most of the 3rd ed stuff just looks to me like Diablo 2&3 video games.  If I wanted that, I’d stay at home on the computer and play on the track that the rules dictate.  But it’s perfectly reasonable to expect dramatic story telling and imaginative interaction when I sit down to a RPG table.  The game rules/mechanics should facilitate that, not get in the way of it.

          • A Viescas says:

            Even “the old days” wouldn’t let you kill five orcs with one sword swing (or would require a check a first-level character wouldn’t be able to make, depending on circumstances). That would defeat the point of a combat system. 

            As for less wild but still cinematic things, new DnD doesn’t really prevent them so much as the plethora of character options sometimes tricks new GMs into forgetting that Rule 0 exists and thinking that cinematic combat events can only happen through those character options. 

            In the old, as in the new, experience and assessment is required to make a system work.

      • MooseDesign says:

        I 100% agree that the “mechanics of a game change the mood” and actually think it’s an extremely relevant concern. Largely because, in my experience, less inventive or experienced players more easily fall back on rote play defined by what the rules allow or simply reading a list of their attack cards off during an encounter rather than being creative… and while this behavior is not limited to any particular edition it does seem far more common in later editions than in the Basic or AD&D games we run. It’s easy for people to forget that regardless of edition, they are not rulebooks, but “Guides” and “Handbooks.” This implies flexibility in how a game is DMed. Still, its been my experience that you have to know the rules in order to break them equitably and if you can’t capture the Player guidelines in a single book, for example, then something is amiss.

        Still, if I have a gripe, the power card reading is, to me, the biggest mechanical failure of the newer system in how it’s executed. At one of the most compelling moments of gameplay, battle, it supplants player ingenuity and inventiveness with a defined script that both utterly fails to capture any drama after the 30th recitation and saps the opportunity from the player to fully invent their role ad hoc, rather than have it served up. And far far too many players seem to fall into that trap.

        To each their own… I am more concerned with having the time to play nowadays than anything else, but we’re probably going to stick with the Compendium and house rules to steer our sessions into dungeoneering bliss.

        • Bonobo says:

          This. The psionics and grappling in AD&D 1E were terrible, but the system was much better geared toward role-playing and non-combat solutions. I recently started a 4E campaign and there is little subtlety in it. I am playing an illusionist (supplemental class from Dragon Magazine 364). All of my illusory spells do direct psychic damage, meaning that I can sit at the back of the party and sling damage at hordes of enemies like I was hurling fireballs.

          Many of the hard edges have been worn away. Healing surges mean I never have to worry too much about damage between fights, daily, encounter and at-will powers mean no periods of terrifying vulnerability between re-memorizing spells.

          It is those weaknesses and differences between classes that make for a fun campaign. I should be feeling the pain of my wounds after a fight. I should have to worry about bandaging myself for fear of bleeding to death. I should need the salvation of my gods to prevent myself from succumbing. I should have to carefully consider whether I want to cast something because I might need it later.

          /rant

          • Russell Jackman says:

             Being in my very first 4th Ed campaign ever. now on it’s sixth session, I have to say 4th ed is Death to RP. You have to min-max. You can’t be creative in fights, or you will be punished (as demonstrated by our rogue trying to do some acrobatic fencing in a crowd. He died instantly from automatic retaliatory Attacks of Opportunity). Combats with more target than there are party members, even it is only by one, and they are not Minions, take hours to grind out.

            No creativity is allowed, or is actively discouraged/punished. You read your card. Over and over and over again. The mage, with randomly-assigned stats other than Int, is as good at being a Ranger in Nature, and has better ‘armor’ than the barbarian. The ranger can completely replace the rogue, since there is nothing about being a ranger that ties them to outdoors/natural settings.

            It’s all broken down to simple MMO settings. Damage per second classes. Healer classes. Tank/meatshield classes. The wonderful addition of the Buff/Debuff class and you have the perfect MMO party setup. And outside of multi-classing that is all you can do.

            The only time role-playing can be done is when nothing mechanics-related is happening. The second the mechanics are called into play, all role-playing comes to an instant halt.

            Am I saying the other editions are better? Not at all. Speaking strictly on 4th’s own system solely, it is as other posters have stated, a dumbing down of incredible proportions. MMOs were adapted versions of D&D, simplified for the video game environment. Wizards have forgotten that, dumbing it down even further by making a RPG adaptation of MMOs, like a photocopy of a photocopy.

        • Gilbert Wham says:

           

          It’s easy for people to forget that regardless of edition, they are not rulebooks, but “Guides” and “Handbooks.”

          Well, quite. You’re doing it wrong if accumulating rules and figurines is more important than hacking together a system that works right for you, IMO.

      • CJR says:

        There’s a general dumbing down of products that’s almost a zeitgeist of stupidity, such as how console-driven game development has turned computer games into a series of decision-less hoops. This pre-fabricated approach to D&D is part of it. As in The Simpsons episode where Lisa, on being denied free-form Lego instead the model-boxes now sold, was told “we do the imagining for you.”

    • Pinwiz11 says:

      Agreed.  I’ve been playing Fourth Edition for over three years now and I’ve never had an issue with the combat or any of the rules replacing Role Playing.  If anything, the new combat rules makes encounters more engaging for me.

      I can appreciate those that like the OSR philosophy. It’s fine, but it’s not for me.

      • Ramone says:

        What’s to “philosphize” about? The OSR is, and has only ever been, about making the game simpler, easier so GMs could feel free to dump rules and make up new ones. Yes, you could always do that, but when you’ve got an overly-designed, statted-in-concrete manual in front of you, you’re likely to get overwhelmed and give up. The OSR gave power back to the GM and players to imagine the hell out of their game.

    • SumAnon says:

       Exactly. All I have to add is person experience; The DM and other players have a much bigger impact on the RP aspect of a game. I’ve played 3.5 with a few different groups, and we’ve had zero difficulty customizing the amount of role play to taste. I’ve found 3.5 to be (generally) easier to understand than older versions, though part of that may be the difference in age when I was exposed to them.

      • Wing Gand says:

         I find 3.X to be easier to introduce new players to. In a world where computers and calculators do most of the math, the mechanics are easier to pick up. Roll a d20, add modifiers.

        Lets face it, there was a reason 1st and 2nd edition players were labelled nerds: we were academically adaptable.  I was in 2nd grade and my teacher had to ask how I came up with the answer of -3, to the question of 4-7=? She had to explain that I was right, but the simple answer was supposed to be 0.  However, I was used to calculating Armor Class when the lower was better, and I understood negative numbers years before my peers.

        The easiest thing to do is blame Wizards for playing to the lowest common denominator to sell the most books.  The sad truth is, it has to be simple to sell enough books. The national average IQ is now 98… That’s an average INT score of 9.  We are a nation of half-orcs who want to look like elves.  If an author wants their book to be a best seller, they have to be a tv or radio star, or get their book made into a movie. 

        • SumAnon says:

          Wait… you were actually taught in school that 4-7=0? I understand not wanting to destroy young children with advanced math, but … what? What?

          And great INT score analogy.

        • R. A. Whipple says:

          I am an OSR grognard. I failed grades 3, 10 and completed HS with a grade 10 pass. I dropped out of university, unable to hack the requirements after a semester and one half. 

          I think the real appeal to OSR was the scope of imagination covered in the game written for “one DM equal to another DM” (page 9: DMG Introduction) and the authenticity of playing myself (in my naive mind I had a knight self-image) amongst others my age (also exploring themselves) in hypothetical (alignments) and fantastical situations. As for the stereotyping caused by classes and racial level caps as well as the caps to HP (around 10th level), this allowed for a scope of play where everyone understood the fantasy world we could then share.

          So the idea of being a group of nerd and geeks just does not sell to this grognard. That is just more elitist crap. However, NO GAME SINCE AD&D HAS SO BLATANTLY INCLUDED THE PLAYER INTO THE SYSTEM AS WRITTEN. TSR even published a magazine that was open to promoting other games that directly competed with their product. I do not see this category-marketing model in the hobby any more.

          So say what you will about AD&D 1e. But even many of you who like it, but especially the majority of you who dislike it, have forgotten that the game is what you play and not what is published in AD&D 1e – unlike other games. You evidence this in the purposeful rules gaps, the rulings over rules, and Rule Zero.

          Nostalgia? Maybe. Progress to process? Probably. More social in construction? No. And as I get older, I realise how much fun it was to play *with* people.

    • True, to a point. But certain rules, lend to different styles of gaming. Later editions, like 3 & 4, were focused on combat–focused is the keyword. Not going to deny that it can be fun, and that it’s way more interesting for some people. But lighter rules lend to lighter combat, more focus on things like traps and exploration. It’s just a different game with the same name. Feel free to follow the brand to the end, the goal of the OSR is to go back to the focus of the original (and earlier editions) of the game. No harm, no foul. WotC is going to do what they want. Popularity and sales don’t change the sentiments of those that decide not to follow WotC to the end, some of us are pretty happy with the older versions, and some folks like myself _prefer_ the older editions. Preference has nothing to do with version-hatred. Preference should go without saying. Now, want to talk about _why_ I prefer older editions? Don’t take it personally, but I think the later editions sucked. 

      I am looking forward to 5e.

    • Arthur Powell says:

      I totally agree. One of the reasons that I became a DM is because I got tired as a player going through hack and slash adventures; this was on version 1!! It’s totally up to the DM on how the adventure goes. I use the 4e rules, like them and we have had several sessions where we did not have one combat encounter. 

  2. Brian Easton says:

    WotC didn’t take a game that was free form and open and make it more like a board game. They took the game and codified it, making it streamlined and easier to play. At its core D&D has always been a miniatures wargame (the game spun off of Chainmail). If anything Wizards helped the roleplaying aspects become more freeform.

    As for being a product to buy, well obviously selling product is how they stay in business. Still, Wizards hasn’t reached the heights of product releases that TSR did when they maintained several ongoing campaign settings and had splatbooks for every character class.

    • GlyphGryph says:

       I agree, D&D has always, at it’s heart, been a wargame. There’s plenty of other games out there if you want to focus on roleplaying, but even in the older editions it felt like successful roleplaying meant seeing the rules more as guidelines than actual rules.

      Of course, it also encouraged that to a certain extent, and one has to admit that “streamlining” it has made it a bit more difficult for gamemasters to just make things up to get what they want.

      • Brian Easton says:

        One could argue that gamemasters who are merely playing to get what they want are “doing it wrong”. The ultimate goal should be for everyone to have fun on both sides of the screen. The GM should probably be more willing to roll with the punches than the players.

      • R. A. Whipple says:

        Sorry but AD&D 1e is a CAMPAIGN game that recognises player character motivations, which are built into the Guide and Handbook descriptions. Role-play is a mechanic you will find that influences the game, I can argue, with greater impact than staid rules regarding Hirelins or Henchmen (see how the role-play impact those rules, DMG: NPCs pg 100 -103; Campaign, pg 86; Experience pg 86;  PHB: Successful Adventure pg 107, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., )

        How far away do you want to go from a wargame? Gygax and Arneson were both wargamers and they never once referred to the game as a wargame. The reference was to a game of make-believe.

  3. jctepl says:

    Really in any RPG it can come down to just rolling dice and tactical combat. It’s really up to the play group and the DM what style of game they want to play.

  4. Tim H says:

    The push of OSR is to play the Original Game, the game that was full of wonder and innovation and complete craziness before the streamlining and rulesing was used to sell more books.  It’s Rush and nostalgia and straight guys “turning on”, as I’ve heard some folks put it OSRing is “nostalgia for the game you’ve never played”.

    It was a game that you had to figure out, everyone played it differently – learning the rules and fixing them itself was an adventure. 

  5. Brian Stark says:

    Just do what our group did, play Warhammer Quest instead!

  6. itshugh says:

    Even in it’s AD&D era, the game was an odd mish-mash of incredibly complex rules; they just didn’t work together. I’m all in favour of a simpler, easier format that permits storytelling – but why go to early D&D instead of something like Fate that’s actually built for that?

    • Marja Erwin says:

      Or, if you’re looking for old-school, why not Basic Roleplaying? (Whether using one of the setting-specific rules sets such as Runequest, Call of Cthulhu, or Stormbringer, the newer generic version, or both?)

  7. Newb Sanchez says:

    Agreed, I’ve always viewed the D&D rules as a guideline. When 3.5 came out, it needed a lot of house-tweaking to dump a lot of the restrictive things. I always reward role play in my games, either with a small XP bonus or taking that player out of the beer run rotation.

  8. jarrodhenry says:

    It does amuse me that people treat the OSR group and the original rules as though they were some flawless creed that Wizards came along and messed up.

    Hah.  

    I don’t have my original books.. they’ve been lost to the sands of time.. but if you did look through them, you’d see that myself and other gamers in my group wrote in them about as much (if not more) than the authors did.. because we had to fix their incorrect math, their misspellings, etc.   

    I think THAT’S what people miss.  They miss being able to do that to the modern game.  But guess what?  You _CAN_ do that to the modern game.  Go ahead.   I won’t tell :D

    • Ceronomus says:

       I always found it funny that, while TSR published the errata for the AD&D books in Dragon Magazine, later printings of the books were never corrected. Even the newly released versions do not have the corrections.

      1st edition can be a bit unwieldy in places, parts of it are just plain awful (psionics). That said, the game was about… the game. Enter 2nd edition. Certainly some improvements rule-wise but then the splat-book onslaught began. The nice thing about 1st edition is that it was balanced and well thought out. 2nd edition lost that with the mass of books (a problem that has always continued).

      3rd edition and 3.5? Both fairly good systems that are fully playable with just the core books. An overabundance of munchkin cheese available, but the core books work well and stand on their own. On the downside, some of the changes are pretty drastic. 3rd takes a game once played by groups of 10-12 down to a game where a party should be 4 players. Still, 3rd and 3.5 were good.

      4th? Some folks love it, some (like myself) hate it. It is D&D for the computer generation. A board game, nothing more. As someone above mentioned, one can RP anything, but 4th isn’t structured to encourage it. It is meant for the DPS crowd. Not my cup of tea, and it cost D&D the spot of the best-selling RPG for the first time ever in its history (Paizo’s Pathfinder now outsells D&D).

      D&D Next has changed so much from playtest to playtest that it might actually turn out to be decent.

      In the meantime, WOTC is re-releasing everything in their back catalog, and that is a great idea. It doesn’t matter which edition of AD&D/D&D you think is the best, just buy the stuff you want to play.

    • joshualyle says:

      You’re describing yourself as though different than they OSR. You’re not. We are doing what you describe yourself as doing.

      That said, the original version with all its flaws is, for me, more playable than the modern versions if only for it’s brevity.

      That said, E6 is pretty good, too.

  9. William Farrar says:

    I play 3.5 and in my opinion it is the best version out there. People forget how unwieldy AD&D was. THACO in particular was a pain. D&D was always about killing things and breaking stuff. You just needed a good DM to make it work.

  10. Christopher says:

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but it sounds like “OSR” isn’t that different from the AD&D my friends and I played throughout the 1980′s. And it sounds, to a great extent, like the AD&D I played at conventions like Glathricon. Yes, there were rulebooks, but the game wasn’t strictly played according to any rules. The rules were more guidelines that could be molded, adapted, or thrown out depending on what was called for. There were competitions at Glathricon, as I remember it, but the main challenge wasn’t abiding by the rules–it was taking a character description and making that character come alive.

    What I think I’m missing is why the game as I played it now has to be given a special designation, as though its existence has somehow been threatened. I get that WotC is trying to stay in business through a combination of versions with stricter rules and reissuing books from a mythical golden age of AD&D. What I don’t get is why players feel a need to go along with that and create categories to subdivide themselves.

    • jarrodhenry says:

      That would be because OSR (and search for OSRIC, you can find it out there), is a serial numbers filed off clean-room remake of AD&D.  See, you can’t copyright ideas.  So if someone takes your rules, and rewrites them, they’ve made a new game. :D  That’s what OSR (and its ruleset, OSRIC) is. AD&D with the serial numbers filed.  

      • David says:

        OSRIC is only one of many different rules sets that fall under the broad OSR tent. Others like Adventurer, Conqueror, King or Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or Dungeon Crawl Classics take those old rules sets and twist them in a wide variety of ways. It isn’t just filing off the serial numbers.

  11. Remy Porter says:

    Earlier editions of D&D had far more rules than 3.0+. It’s not the rules-weight of the system, its the way those rules work and interact. You have a few different approaches.

    1) Crunchy: I call early D&D versions “Crunchy”. Crunchy systems have lots of rules, and many of them have very specific applications. There’s not a lot of generic solutions to gaming problems, but instead, there are all sorts of special cases. In practice, it tends to be very modular, as people use the rules they need for the game they’re playing, and ignore most of the rest. The relationship between the DM and the players is at its most antagonistic here.
    2) Linear: D&D from 3+ tend to be more linear systems. They’ve eschewed the special-case rules in favor of a more streamlined ruleset. These systems do tend to lose flavor- they don’t have the rules-lawyering errata of a Crunchy” system, and they don’t have the wide open, creativity-rewarding mechanics of an open system. On the flip side, they’re more consistent, can be more deterministically adjudicated without resort to DM-fiat, and play faster. The DM is still largely an antagonist in a linear system like this.
    3) Open: Open systems (Fudge, PDQ, Fate) have lose rulesets- the entirety of the rules can be summarized in just a few minutes. Instead of focusing on the specifics of how a character overcomes an obstacle, it turns it into a very generic process. These systems require a lot more trust between the DM and the players. It’s much more cooperative.
    4) Storytelling: Systems like Fiasco or Microscope aren’t a traditional RPG. You aren’t building and progressing a character. You are telling a story to each other. In these cases, rules are nothing more than a guide for helping people work together to tell a story. These systems rarely have a DM.

    Now, a few notes: 
    Just because a ruleset has a Crunchy bias doesn’t mean your game is automatically crunchy. You can run a Storytelling version of an AD&D campaign, I’m just trying to identify the mechanical bias in the system.

    Some systems are flexible and easily adapt to anything along the spectrum (the old WestEnd SWD6 had a great tactical “Crunchy” mode, but frequently ran as an “Open” system).

    The inherent brokenness of the rules is often where the real creative aspects of the game arise. Systems on the Crunchy side of the spectrum try and solve problems by adding more special cases of rules, which tends to create more situations where the rules break. Open systems just accept that the rules can’t describe everything, and give DMs the tools they need to apply rules creatively. 

    • Andy says:

      That was actually a really insightful breakdown. Thanks!

    • Remy Porter says:

      Hunh. I posted both of these, but apparently, Disqus has gotten confused about what Disqus profile to associate with my account.

    • StormBringer says:

       “Earlier editions of D&D had far more rules than 3.0+.”
      No, I’m sorry, but that is the exact opposite of ‘correct’.

      • Bobby Martin says:

        Yep, and that’s super-easy to see. Look up the (free) Swords & Wizardry PDFs for Whitebox or Core. Look at the number of pages. That’s for PHB+DMG+Monster Manual.

        Now look at the minimum number of pages for the core rules of 3.0+, including DM reference and monsters. I think you’ll find it’s probably 10x as big.

        • Ramone says:

          Agreed. There’s very little “crunch” in 0E and 1E. The 2E era could be blamed for “crunch expansion” comiserate with the number of supplements that supported the core game–but 3E was like a supernova of books you didn’t need. 3E and 4E are, by FAR, the largest, heaviest crunch the game has ever seen.

  12. MrScience says:

    I’d like to see mention of the Pathfinder fork in this article. It always interested me that as WotC poshed 4th edition, there was enough support to continue in the earlier rules&tables style RPG. Personally, I’ve found Mouse Guard to be amazingly refreshing.

  13. NelC says:

    I think this might turn out to be one of the flame-baitiest posts Boingboing has done this year. There are so many players who want to preach the One True Way of RPGs, and D&D in particular, and they all hate each other.

    • Boundegar says:

      Absolutely!  You’re all wrong.  Last time I played D&D it was three little paperback books in a box.  Greyhawk still had new-book smell.  We bought Blackmoor when it hit the shelves.

      The rest of you are noobs.  Flame!  Flaaaaaame!

      Actually, those first-edition rules were awful.  They wanted to be two games at once – one was role-playing, and one was Warhammer.  Distance was measured in inches, or sometimes hexagons, because it was assumed you would have a little figurine, and it got confusing to convert to feet or meters or cubits.  Far from Wizards of the Coast turning it into a game “where the players
      merely pretend that they are the miniature figurines pushed around on a
      combat grid”, it actually started out that way.

      The original rules were also chaotic, filled with typos and math errors, and poached heavily on Tolkein’s IP.  Halflings were called “Hobbits.” But that didn’t stop me from boycotting the glossy, corporate “Advanced D&D.” Ah we were such geeks!

      • LintMan says:

        “it actually started out that way”

        Yes, early D&D was tied to miniatures with its hexes and inches measurements, but it doesn’t *FORCE* you to use miniatures the way that 4th edition does.

        In original D&D, my friends and I had no need for miniatures or tile sets. We were able to resolve most battles verbally without using any physical markers, and for the rare battle that needed more precise position tracking, a handful of dice on the table was fine. (ie:” This 20-sided is the dragon, you’re the green 4-sided”, etc)

        4th edition can’t work like that. Many many of its classes and skills are based around precise combat movement abilities: “attack then shift two squares”, “move 3 square and attack”, “if attack succeeds, shfit adjacent allied target one square”, “slide enemy 3 squares”, “if attack succeeds, deal 4 additional damage to adjacent enemy”. For any of that to have purpose, you HAVE to play on a grid and precisely track the locations of all the players and monsters. If’ you’re not tracking all that, then all that shfting and moving and flanking and opportunity attacking that is at the heart of the combat and skill systems is meaningless. And once you’re ona grid map doing that for every single battle, using figurines becomes a hell of a lot more necessary.

        • Boundegar says:

          Wow.  What a pain in the ass.  People choose to play this?

          • LintMan says:

            It’s definitely more of a tactical, chesslike experience as you maneuver your characters around to flank and avoid being flanked.    The battles seem to take much longer, which has the effect of making the game itself feel much more combat focused.  For tabletop  grognards, I’m sure it’s pretty awesome.  I personally preferred the old way more, but this was OK.

        • Russell Jackman says:

          *sighs* Yeah, it’s every bit that bad. We tried one time to play off grid. Within 10 minutes of stopping, fudging Burst sizes, figuring out where a Shift would go, and the tank getting knocked Prone then pummeled with Attacks of Opportunity for trying to stand while surrounded, the DM stopped everything, rolled out the dry-erase map, and drew it all out. You HAVE to use minis, or the game simply cannot be played as is.

      • Jim Kelly says:

         Ah, it all would’ve been better if we’d stuck to Chainmail.

    • oasisob1 says:

      True, but only those of use standing behind the 2nd edition flag are correct. Raaaah, rumble, grumble, snark!

    • Deidzoeb says:

      I thought it was bad when BB commenters argued about whether a particular song counts as dubstep or bro step or techno or electronica or acid house or whatever. That’s like a love story compared to grognard geeks warring over editions. I used to talk smack about THAC0, then I took an arrow to the knee in the great transition from 2nd to 3rd edition.

  14. franko says:

    i have to quibble with your footnote. i HAVE a first edition DM Guide — i’m looking at it right now, at Appendix N — and not only is Tolkien listed (right after Margaret St. Clair and before Jack Vance), Gygax says, “The following authors were of particular inspiration to me.” — several aspects of D&D would simply not exist without Tolkien’s influence.

    • Clifton says:

      Whoa! Gygax listed Margaret St. Clair as an influence? That’s awesome – so few SF & Fantasy readers have even heard of her these days.  Some of her books were extremely original.

  15. Jay CSC says:

    Great article overall, I’d love to see a follow up that talks about what the OSR has done both in retro clones and in making NEW games, in the spirit of homebrew RPG-design.

  16. Look there are so many factual errors involved in the history of the product and the companies involved that I can’t begin to take the opinions seriously. TSR is the one who made things with conflicting rules and three different expensive hardcover books and you can ( but probably don’t want to ) play 3.5 without minis and interestingly you can play entire campaigns without getting into combat if that’s what your group is into. So the basic thesis is already flawed but the misrepresentation of copyright is highly problematic and shows that not even a cursory glance at Wikipedia was made before writing this peice.

    You can copyright game rules. Completely and absolutely.  But it was WotC that created a open game license version of the D-20 system ON PURPOSE which is allowing many of the customized rules sets in concert with 3rd Edition.

    This directly contradicts all of the premise of your article/essay whatever not journalism thing this is. 

    They literally created a copyright free zone specifically to allow pro and non pro to interact with the game. I won’t go near the rest of the article. Maybe someone actually taped the Gen Con keynote for you to go look at so you can see what was actually happening and what they’re doing now. There are valid concerns and opinions and things to dislike, however they should be based in actual occurances. 

    but let’s just start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Game_License

    • David Culp says:

      You cannot copyright rules. Copyright refers to a specific esxpression, a writing, painting, sculpture but not to an idea and game rules are ideas. Now, you can patent game rules, you can even trademark certain things, like the “Beholder” monster which WotC claims a trademark on. However, you absolutley cannot copyright the rules themselves, only the written and graphical expression of those rules.

  17. David Culp says:

    You cannot copyright rules.  Copyright refers to a specific esxpression, a writing, painting, sculpture but not to an idea and game rules are ideas.  Now, you can patent game rules, you can even trademark certain things, like the “Beholder” monster which WotC claims a trademark on.  However, you absolutley cannot copyright the rules themselves, only the written and graphical expression of those rules.

  18. David Culp says:

    I plant myself as pseudo “OSR”. I enjoy the old rule sets mostly because of simplicity and nostalgia but I have played newer editions and I am currently playing Pathfinder , which is decidedly NOT OSR. I think MANY members of the so-called OSR misunderstand newer editions and refuse to see their merit. I am a teacher and have many students who play 4th edition D&D and they play it a LOT like I used to play when I was young. More combat rules does NOT mean you cannot role-play and my students create elaborate backgrounds and histories for the characters and spend a lot of time role-playing and no roll-playing.

    • That seems to indicate that you cannot copyright math, mechanics or processes – like rolling dice or orders- D&D and other roleplaying games are content that is copyrighted  - so I agree you can’t copyright an incremental percentile effect table but you can and do copyright the game rules that use the names of the monsters from your product. 

      Rules as processes cannot be copyrighted – rules as text instructions can under literary rules according to the very reference you’ve listed. And  they were. 

  19. Dan Hibiki says:

    Yeah, no.
    Early D&D campaigns(especially Gygax’s) were more of meat grinders with little to no chance at role playing. what they did do is force a lot of dungeon masters to make up their own content.

    • oasisob1 says:

      Isn’t that the point?

      • Gilbert Wham says:

         Yes. Yes, it is. We regularly adapted campaigns, rules, character classes and so forth from different games/universes to D&D and vice-versa. And frequently just winged it altogether. That was when it got really good.

        • Finnagain says:

           That is when it gets really good! You need some good players, and it helps to have a great DM.

          Also, past tense of wing it must be wang it. You wang it.

    • Ramone says:

      I think Gygax and Arneson (and the rest of the old masters) would totally disagree that there was “little to no chance at role playing”. The rules didn’t disuade or prevent that from happening. Many of the original GMs gave XP for roleplaying in addition to besting the “meat grider” (e.g., killing monsters and taking their stuff).

  20. SKR says:

    I would think that an open source roleplaying system would more closely resemble something generic and universal. You could call it the Generic Universal Role Playing System. ok well maybe GURPS is already taken.

  21. Tim H says:

    For those of you on the “D&D was a wargame so that makes the board game wargame aspects okay” bandwagon:  http://muleabides.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/dd-was-a-wargame-i-do-not-think-it-means-what-you-think-it-means/

    • Marja Erwin says:

      It depends on the wargame. But for obvious reasons it’s easier for two players to get together than for dozens, and most wargames reflect this, and most wargames have defined rules, victory conditions, etc. to allow two players without referees.

      I think it’s legit to say that adventures which involve fewer puzzles, more two-team contests and fights, fewer negotiations, or more narrowly defined standards of success and failure have something in common with two-player wargames though. Competitive games and especially competitive two-player games can’t escape those limits. Roleplaying games can, and usually should.

      Also, to me, one of the sharper differences between wargame rules and some old-school roleplaying rules is that wargame rules tend to be better written and tend to adhere to certain concepts and apply them everywhere. For example, in Squad Leader, low rolls and negative die roll modifiers are good for whoever is rolling. And one of the sharper differences between wargame rules and most new-school roleplaying rules is that wargames tend to include a wealth of period-specific historical data, commentary, etc. and to cover movement rates/travel times which most new-school roleplaying games completely ignore. Admittedly, the travel times for organized military units are much longer than for small groups.

  22. Travis Miller says:

    “Maybe we don’t need to keep looking back. Is the spirit of OSR really just a bunch of throwback nerds, staring into the abyss?” 
    No. If there is a single “spirit” to the OSR it is that the the original game rules provide a different play experience than the newer rules.  The experience provided by that old rule set is preferred by a certain group of people.  

    Vincent Baker has a written for Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  I can’t imagine the designer of _Dogs in the Vineyard_ being a throwback. For all intents and purposes, Dungeon Crawl Classics is D20 with feats and skills removed plus a crazy magic system.  Despite being D20 under the hood, it has been embraced by the OSR and a wider audience as well.  DCC hit the top ten in the ICV2 surveys recently. 

    It is fair to say that there are some fundamentalists who think the game ought to be what TSR was putting out in 1978.   I think it is false to say that those people are “spirit” of the OSR. 

    The other bizarre thing about this is that if you look at Paizo and WoTC’s adventures and settings you find very little beyond the same tired tropes and cliches in use by TSR in the early 80′s.  Rules are nice but if these games are so innovative then why are they giving us more content like “Carcosa” and less like “Forgotten Realms?” 

  23. Marja Erwin says:

    I have to say that the rules absolutely *can* get in the way of roleplaying. As can GMs throwing monsters at you every session.

    For example, class-based systems in the way of creating characters who don’t fit in any of the established classes. D&D 3.0/3.5 and Pathfinder are more flexible than other class-based systems, but the combination of class abilities creates too many opportunities for those who abuse the system, and too many hassles for those who just want to fit their setting-appropriate character concept into the system.

    In my experience, skill-based systems make it much easier to create the characters I’ve imagined, and play them more-or-less as I’ve imagined them.

  24. spacedmonkey says:

    Try Hackmaster. Seriously.  It might have had its origins in a joke, but it’s exactly the game that 1st Edition AD&D should have been but never was.

  25. Bob Arens says:

    Check out Dungeon World. OSR feel with cutting-edge RPG technology. And it’s Creative Commons licensed.

  26. Aaron White says:

    I stopped playing AD&D when my DM moved away, and started attending improv comedy shows instead.  Eventually I joined the troupe, and found that it scratched the same itch the D&D used to, with the added bonus that I got better at picking up on social cues and responding in real time, since improv is less tolerant of spaced-out contemplation than RPGs are.

    Nowadays I find that games like Fiasco by Jason Morningstar and Shooting the Moon by Emily Care Boss are more interesting to me.  The game mechanics serve storytelling, and you’re not locked in to any particular genre troupes.

  27. It should be noted that RPGPundit has been kicked off of every major RPG forum site for disruptive behavior and is a notorious troll.

  28. Lukas Myhan says:

    Did the RPGpundit really just get credited for saying that we need to be more open and pushing innovation in roleplaying? That guy is notorious for trashing and insulting modern games that stray more than a few centimeters from his personal, narrow definition of what roleplaying games should be.

    • Andy says:

      Seriously. The sheer irony of that quote is that indie games are doing that exact same cage-rattling in the modern era..and he loathes them for it.

  29. Dancy Lawrence says:

    The OSR rules aren’t about roleplay vs. wargaming. Indeed, the preferred mode of play of OSR is the combat-heavy dungeon bash. The OSR rules are actually  primarily about 4 things besides nostalgia and ability to make your own stuff in nice-quality small press editions:

    (1). Incomplete Rules that Leave a Lot to the Imagination
    Most OSR rules are combat-focused, because combat is the one thing that you can’t easily “talk” your way through (“I hit him!” No You Didn’t!). The emphasis is on generalized, simple combat mechanics to resolve fights or a few tactical dungeon-based things like listening behind a door or picking a lock

    They leave out detailed rules for non-combat tasks, out of dungeon adventuring, and for complex tactical maneuvering within combat, leaving these details up to the players to try and verbally sell to the Game Master.

    .The disadvantage is that this makes it harder to create characters who do things other than kill; the newer rules are better for that. The advantage is that much more of the action takes place in the headspace of the players; there is less need for miniatures, and players are encouraged to roleplay negotiations or wow the game master with their described tactical moves or think their way through puzzles rather than “roll against Bluff or Diplomacy skill” or “roll against Disarm Device skill” or “I move my character 3 squares right, then one square left, use my special feat to avoid triggering an Attack of Opportunity, and then strike for +4 to hit (see, it says in the rules!)…”

    It is worth pointing out that the current handholding detailed rules grew up because the Old School systems were  hopelessly vague or contradictory in most areas outside of the basic “I roll to hit, take damage” combat and magic systems, and left many new players utterly lost.  Miniatures are also useful for avoiding arguments, etc.

    The OSR is mostly made up or guided by experienced players, many of whom have played for decades, and are extremely comfortable improvising things and working without a safety net.. For them,  the mass of rules gets in the way.

    It’s basically like cooking: do you follow a specific recipe (new rules) or do you like to have a few general rules but improvise (old school)?

    (2). Sandbox Play
    Most but not all OSR sets and adventures emphasize the creation of large, pre-stocked areas (dungeons or wildernesses) that are designed by the game master and through the which the players can then roam at will engaging in self-directed adventure. In contrast, most current WOTC (and Pathfinder etc.) adventures emphasize the creation of densely-plotted story and mission-based adventures.

    (3) Reduced DM-Prep Time via Simpler Stat Blocking
    Most OSR gamers like the old rules because they used simpler stat blocks for monsters and NPCs, thus making it easier to self-stock these large sandboxes. “20 orcs, 5 HP each” or “10th level fighter, 74 HP” rather than a few paragraphs of stats.

    This is actually pretty huge, and is perhaps the major advantage of the OSR rules. Statting up a huge sandbox megadungeon is damn hard with D&D 3.0 to or 3.5, somewhat easier with D&D 4.0 or 2.0 but still a bit of a pain, but very easy with OSR rules derived from AD&D or O&D versions with their dirt-simple NPCs and monsters.

    (4) Shared Content
    During the AD&D and OD&D era the very simple game mechanics meant that sharing content was easy. While the system was not legally “open” in the period 1973 early 1980s but in that era TSR maintained a de-facto OGL policy in which people free to create new character classes, variants, spells, adventures, and monsters without any licenses using the system content and publish them in magazines for profit or APAs for free. Less important than the license was the fact that the simple, undefined nature of most of the rules made hacking them extremely easy, even more so than the  legally-open 3.0 system. OSR is a return to this era. Although most OSR rul  sets differ in detail, almost all use identical game stats, making sharing between systems trivial.

    • Tim H says:

      To add onto your list:

       A lack of balance is one of the big differences between contemporary D&D and OSR.  In OSR there was no formula to determine balanced encounters and no _interest_ in such a thing, running away from powerful foes is a hallmark of sandbox play.  White box D&D rewarded XP for treasure taken out of the dungeon, you did well to avoid conflict entirely.

    • Avram Grumer says:

      Indeed, the preferred mode of play of OSR is the combat-heavy dungeon bash.

      Dungeon bash, yes. Combat-heavy, well, maybe.

      Pull out a copy of those old D&D rules, and look at the experience point awards. You don’t actually get that many XP for fighting monsters, compared to how much you get for the treasure. And fighting monsters is dangerous, especially at low levels.

      We didn’t all play it this way, back in the day, but I’ve heard it argued that the play style actually encouraged by original D&D is the dungeon crawl where you outwit monsters, rather than fighting them. 

      • Actually, go far enough back and there is NO XP for fighting monsters. All XP came from treasure. I don’t remember a lot of outwitting of monsters in our games back then though. That could have just been our group though.

      • Gilbert Wham says:

         Also, try fighting monsters in, say, CoC, and see how far that gets you. ‘Dynamite it and run like fuck’ was always the best tactic there…

  30. Guysmiley says:

    RPG rules work best when treated as suggestions and managed by a clever GM. I think the most fun I ever had playing a pen and paper RPG was R. Talsorian Cyberpunk 2020.
    It was a messy hodge podge of rules (with insanely lethal combat rules)
    but our GM did a masterful job of telling a story and we had a blast
    with it.

  31. Finnagain says:

    Starting with the white box set, our games got progressively more interesting as time, and versions, passed. But what made the games great were the players, and DMs. The rules were there to be broken at will by the DM. The more experienced the DM was, the less we relied on written rules. I tried 4th ed. exactly once, and thought it was incredibly boring. But the bits are great looking!

  32. Jonathan Badger says:

    While I agree with people who say you can roleplay as much as you want with any set of rules, I find it odd that anyone would see the heyday of AD&D as the height of roleplaying — people generally ran dungeon crawls (basically analog NetHack) back in the day. It was systems like Call of Cthulhu that really got people into roleplaying beyond combat (because fighting Cthulhu and Yog-Sogoth directly isn’t a very good strategy).

    • Gilbert Wham says:

       Yup. I always preferred Runequest/CoC’s mechanics TBH.Ever play Living Steel? Now that had some overly complex combat mechanics.

  33. EvilSpirit says:

    Huh. I could have sworn that the boardgamification of D&D happened over 10 years after Wizards bought out TSR, but apparently either the author and I are living in an alternate realities. Clearly, in the timeline in which I have found myself, Magic the Gathering is to blame.

  34. Michael Langford says:

    I think the game capturing the spirit of old school D&D with both mechanics and tropes both is Dungeon World, while ditching strange crunchy special cases. It’s released under a creative commons licence, http://book.dwgazetteer.com/ but is also available with art, etc, at several online retailers with printed copies (I think exclusively, but I don’t know) at Indie Press Revolution

    They filtered out all the special rules, etc, that were in original D&D from its linage as a miniatures game successor, and streamlined mechanics greatly (even classes were streamlined fantastically to a 2 sided class specific char sheet). It’s far simpler than most of the old school types games like DCC, etc, and tastes considerably different at first to many experienced people as they have more narrative agency than in many older games, but usually ends up being loved after they humor it for a couple sessions

    The guide at http://apocalypse-world.com/forums/index.php?topic=4996.0 has several more examples of play, and I’d say, it’s really worth checking out for busy adults who enjoyed some RPGs in their more time available years, but would still love to occasionally roll some dice with friends, or to introduce entirely new folks (it’s VERY new player friendly, as all play, combat included, looks like the players describing the action, the GM calling for rolls when appropriate, and lots of back and forth).

  35. E.T. Smith says:

    Some interesting thoughts here, but there are also many statements that I consider inaccurate or misleading.

    The primary one is the implication that “RPGPundit” is a reliable source for thought in the OSR communtiy, or even the wider Role-Playing community in general. There are easily a couple dozen voices much more influential than him (Zak Sabbath of the “D&D with Pornstars” blog comes to mind as does Matt Finch, writer of “A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming”). ‘Pundit is primarily known for an aggressive, often hate-fueled attitude expressed in personal campaigns to deny that progressive indie games count as real rpg’s, and a nearly homophobic revulsion for the romantic-fantasy game “Blue Rose.” Expressing his opinions in no civil terms, he’s been banned from central gaming forums repeatedly. Knowing that, seeing him presented as a voice for diversification comes off as weak irony.

  36. Jack Feerick says:

    It’s worth noting that much of the archival material now available in WotC’s PDF store was available for FREE download just a few years ago. When I started getting back into the game in 2004-2005, not only did Wizards regularly give away new content — publishing original adventure
    modules free online, offering the artwork from all the rulebooks and
    recent issues of Dragon for download — they also had a ton of AD&D 2E modules, sourcebooks, maps, even entire boxed sets tucked away in a corner of its website. They weren’t marketing this stuff; they were dumping it. Some of it wasn’t even converted to PDF, just tossed up as raw RTF files with a folder of GIFs, nothing indexed or organized in any way.

    Then the paywall for the new stuff went up, and the archives disappeared, only to come back again in monetized form. So yeah, I’m finding it hard to see this as anything other than a cash grab, trying to sell me what they were content to throw away not so long ago.

  37. The reality is that WotC didn’t just turn D&D to be more like Magic… D&D was already going down that path. By the end of the life of 2nd Edition, D&D was a mess… splatbook after splatbook pulling everything further and further from its core.

    3.x just continued down that road, after some rather significant (and needed) cleanup, and taking the game OGL. I’ve been playing since OD&D, and the reality is that D&D has never really encouraged roleplaying within it’s rule system terribly well, because that wasn’t the point when the game was developed. It has always, at its heart, been a tactical skirmish game where you kill monsters and take their stuff. Roleplaying gave it legs, but it wasn’t the reason… not even back then.

    While one can argue, in my opinion correctly, that the rules matter and those rules can encourage more roleplaying over just rolling dice, it’s disingenuous to suggest that any particular edition of D&D has been particularly better (or worse) at doing this.

    • Sean Brown says:

       You must not have played with very good DMs.

      While combat is the only thing a DM can’t role-play extremely well (how do you role-play when someone got hit? If I were a player, I’d just say I dodged everything, or as a DM I’d say that I always hit something when I wanted to) and rules have to be constructed around it, Dungeons and Dragons is far more than that, especially with a little imagination.

      Most of the games I ran at age 12 were dungeon crawls (because I didn’t know better back in ’93), I played with groups in my later teen years and currently that do far more than that. With some DMs I gamed with we’d roleplay through scenarios and outwit adversaries, spend whole gaming sessions finding clues (we had to advance the story, the story didn’t advance for us), solve mysteries and puzzles, roleplay scenarios between our characters and NPCs, etc. We’d go multiple gaming sessions without combat.

      I agree with a lot of your post (especially about 3rd edition being a much needed rules cleanup), but I’d have to disagree with your assertion that its disingenuous to suggest editions of D&D have promoted or discouraged roleplaying.

      Tell me. How is one supposed to roleplay a diplomacy situation, when there is a skill for it (referring to 3rd edition)? Sure. You COULD roleplay it, but then that makes the die roll moot. Or, rolling the die then makes the role-playing moot (for the most part).

  38. Snig says:

    The Dungeon Bastard has the final word.  
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRZ1CYYIsCg

  39. Gareth Jenkins says:

    This really is a rather strange article to read.  When taken without all of the rose-tinted nostalgia it kind of makes sense.  At the core it seems sensible to suggest that rules-heavy games tend to get in the way of the roleplaying aspects of gaming.  I can’t disagree there. 

    However, the idea that there’s been a trend towards rule heavy games in general or that D&D has got more rules-heavy and inherently unwieldy over the years is  a rather odd one.  As others have already pointed out – the progenitor of D&D was the miniatures game Chainmail and then D&D started a trend towards more roleplaying oriented games with less emphasis on combat and miniatures.  This trend has had peaks and troughs, like pretty much anything but generally speaking the latest released version of D&D (4th Edition) hasn’t been a nightmare of tables, cross-referencing and calculations that require constant reference to rulebooks.  It’s quite streamlined and follows a general trend towards simplicity in the genre of roleplaying games.  If anything it feels more like the simplistic system offerings of fantasy MMOs than it does a wargame. 

    The real era of complex rules, tables, charts, maths and constant reference to books is just the sort of era that the article paints as a simpler, cleaner time.  The era of the original D&D and AD&D.  This is where system complexity peaked (although even more so in some of the games contemporary to the TSR offerings such as Rolemaster).

    And, addressing the final paragraph directly, I have to say that the rules you ignore to roleplay are pretty much irrelevant in their details.  Once you’ve ignored them and are just roleplaying then they’re just the rules you’ve ignored and their specifics (be they D&D or otherwise) are entirely incidental.

    • Sean Brown says:

      Thac0 in TSR-era Dungeons and Dragons was complicated but that was all.

      You and I must have played different editions of 4th edition. Keeping track of all the feats, skills, and various turn powers and dailies (and when they could be used) was a nightmare. Especially, when I played 2nd edition back in the 90′s and all I had to do (basically) was keep track of my hit points. The rest of the play in 2nd ed was just roleplaying with the DM and the other players.

      I hear using cards to keep track of that stuff made it easy in 4th. But, I had stopped playing Magic the Gathering in 8th grade.

  40. L_Mariachi says:

    Interestingly, WoTC’s pre-TSR foray into RPGs, Everway, was the exact opposite of the system they turned D&D into. No dice, no real combat rules, more freeform collaborative storytelling than a “game” with winners and losers. The reasons it flopped had little to do with its qualities, but it sounds like WoTC inferred some questionable lessons from it.

    Mechanics aside, part of what drew me into D&D as a kid was the utter weirdness and sometimes amateurishness of the source material. Given what the official “professionals” were putting out, it wasn’t much of a stretch for a kid to think that his homebrewed dungeons and monsters were on par. Now that it’s all glossy and homogenized and high-budget, the gulf between the official product and enthusiast-created material is dismaying rather than encouraging.

    • Tim H says:

      Yes!  The DIY element of early D&D was fantastic.  It was “guys like us” making it, everyone involved in the process was a player of the game.  But now it’s completely different, I met a person who did late Dragon magazine covers who’d never played any RPG and didn’t know the first thing about it.  The early, and I mean EARLY, Erol Otus drawings are _inspired_ and informed the fundamental idea of what the game is but this later art is trying to disguise RPGs as something else – as comic books or online games.

    • Gareth Jenkins says:

       Ah yes – Everway is still one of my favourite systems, years on from it’s release and hasty demise.

  41. Ladyfingers says:

    D&D isn’t a patch on the World of Darkness system, especially the original Vampire: The Masquerade. The primary difference being that in Vampire you can play an entire game according to the rules without rolling dice. There are plenty of (very good) dice rules for the stats-player, but the emphasis is one roleplaying, including for the storyteller. 

    • Sean Brown says:

      I really liked the World of Darkness system when I was playing it a lot.

      You can also play D&D without ever touching a die. Well, TSR-era systems, at least. Theoretically, you can do that with WOTC-era systems, but the fact that some of the old roleplaying operations were replaced with die rolls (diplomacy skill, for example) makes it more difficult.

  42. Rob Conley says:

    To me the Old School Renaissance is not about playing a particular set of rules in a particular way, the dungeon crawl. It is about going back to the roots of our hobby and seeing what we could do differently. What avenues were not explored because of the commercial and personal interests of the game designers of the times.

    Rob Conley, Bat in the Attic Games. (http://batintheattic.blogspot.com)

    Also note that the Pundit became part of the OSR when he published Arrows of Indra.  He had a firm idea of how the classic mechanics can be used, write it, and got it published. What everybody see of the OSR is the results of dozens even hundreds of individuals doing just that.  The fact that much it is so retro is result of the popularity of classic D&D and the fact Wizards did little to cater to that audience. But for every “retro” work, there are more doing their own thing. 

    • Sean Brown says:

       I run a mashup of 2nd/3rd editions. Most of the reasoning behind that is exploration and getting inspiration from the older. more free-form, and pulpy editions. I started out with 2nd back in the 90′s and played 3rd and 4th editions. The feel of the game is vastly different in the WOTC-era editions and it feels more like playing a computer game. As if, WOTC designers thought their rule set is how D&D was/ought to have been played.

      Don’t get me wrong. I like aspects of WOTC-era D&D. But, I’d kill for a 3rd edition with the looseness of 2nd edition. That’s why I do the mashup.

  43. Boundegar says:

    There was a time when I was a huge GURPS fan. I probably had 20-30 source books at one time. I loved how you could seamlessly switch genres and have your fantasy heroes face off against a cult of psychic ninjas, and then Smaug, and then a time-travelling Billy the Kid.

  44. d20art says:

    You’ve oversimplified a few things here.

    OSR is made up of many gamers, designers and publishers who are looking back AND looking forward. LotFP, DCC, Labyrinth Lord, ACKs clone much, but they also add significantly to game play – new and improved rules, settings and systems. This was for the most part made possible by WotC Ryan Dancy’s huge contribution to the hobby by way of the Open Game License, from which much was “retro-cloned”. RD’s influence on gaming I put right up there with Gary Gygax, because it started a tidal wave of open sourced RPGs that reinvigorated the hobby. You can find open versions of Traveller, Runequest, the WEG d6 system and more. First there were just add-ons for 3.5, then standalone games like 3.5, then retroclones and new “distributions” entirely.

    OSR folks are not necessarily just old guys with nostalgia – nor more so that any current flavor of Linux is just nostalgia for Unix.

    These things are not synonymous: TSR, Wizards of the Coast, and Hasbro. The current 4e is a Hasbro product and it shows. 3e/3.5e is very much a product of the WotC era. Wonder why Pathfinder resembles 3.5e? Because of much incredible talent of TSR +WotC moving to Paizo.

    D&D Next is Hasbro’s response to lost marketshare – not just what they lost when the shipped 4e, but the continuous non-upgraders that happened with all previous versions. Many of those non-upgraders went to Pathfinder, but also many have moved over to the new generation of post clones. That market is huge, and growing. It is a smart move on the part of Hasbro, since they utterly failed to convert MMO lovers to the tabletop.

    • kid_amazo says:

      Peter Bebergal here. I have been enjoying reading all the comments, but this is the first one that has really moved me to respond. It is exactly these points that I wish I had made clearer in the piece. I also applaud OGL and am sorry I was remiss in giving it due credit for really what has made much of the OSR possible. But I also wished I had emphasized that the OSR is not simply about nostalgia for OD&D and AD&D, but about recreating a particular kind of flavor and sensibility. I would also like to call out Labyrinth Lord, Dungeon Crawl Classics (which in my opinion is one of the best rule sets available right now), and Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. I think one of the issues that gets conflated here is that its not simply about rules. Certainly there are plenty of rules lite game systems that are not in any way related to OSR, but as Rob Conley suggest below, OSR is the spirit of amateurism, of not feeling like as gamers we had to leave everything up to the professionals.

      • Rob Conley says:

        Again thanks for the writing the article, it has generated a lot of conversation. However I do respectfully disagree with the idea that the OSR is about recreating a kind of flavor or sensibility. At it’s core the OSR is about playing one of the older editions of classic D&D. That it, everything else depends what you look at and who you interact with. 

        I will note that because of the choice of using one of the editions classic D&D that the resulting products have certain feel that remains the same regardless of the ultimate focus of the author. Much like with chess and its variants.  But because we are talking about tabletop roleplaying game it not a very restrictive limitation to what can be accomplished if an author has the interest.

  45. Dallas M says:

    Add me to the grumbling grognard list. I love the game that has been awesome for over 30 years. I find the new editions irrelevant, I’m sick of hearing people express the view that AD&D is obsolete or broken, I don’t see why the OSR requires apologies based on claims of innovation, I don’t see that the outcome of a game of D&D should be “storytelling” (thanks White Wolf) and Dungeon World solves a problem that the old school gamer doesn’t have.

  46. Scurra says:

    Surely this is just a standard manifestation of art vs commodity?  D&D is a game commodity now, like Monopoly or Risk.  What I mean is that people have actually heard of it even if they don’r really know anything about it.  What it actually is, is almost irrelevant other than sometimes it works as an entry point for some people into a wider hobby.
    Meanwhile, at the experimental end, the “indie games” are as evident in RPGs as they are in video and board games, with people exploring the limits of systems both mechanically and freeform (with OSR being a good example of the former, and something like Fiasco of the latter.)  And nobody will like all of them (which is a good thing, no?)  

  47. evanwaters says:

    I feel the 4e bashing in the article was a little uninformed. The truth is the game has always given more space to rules for quantifiable things like combat or walking through the wilderness than to social interactions or “roleplaying”, with a general sense of either “improv it out” or “roll a Diplomacy check” for the latter. (Of course I’d question the validity of a hard and exclusive distinction between “combat” and “roleplaying”, or for that matter the idea that anything you have your character do in an RPG is not-roleplaying.) Not to mention 4e solved a lot of balance issues that the new edition looks to be foundering on (they still haven’t figured out a consistent system for fighters doing neat things beyond asking the DM’s  permission.)

    There’s nothing wrong in general with exploring “old school” design, techniques, aesthetics, etc. There are corners of the OSR movement which do get weirdly attached to the Holy Writ of Gygax and Arneson, treating things like Appendix N as some sort of pronouncement of canon rather than “here’s some literature we thought was relevant” or taking the lethality of tournament modules as an ethical position on how life in RPGs should be tough and we shouldn’t coddle players or some such macho posturing. They were making games based on their group and what they found to work, and what they found fun, and I think it’s important to keep that in mind in designing any edition.

    • joshualyle says:

       The primary problem I have with Type-IV D&D is that the balance it is (rightly) praised for is tightly coupled with a reward mechanism that works to thwart creative problem solving outside of the context of highly defined combat encounters and skill challenges.

      Type-0 D&D is very different in that regard. What I love about it is that you try to have the most unbalanced fight you possibly can — or better yet, bribe, intimidate, negotiate, or sneak past the fight altogether — because fair fights are liable to get you or your friends killed.

      Which is certainly not to say the the Type-IV approach is wrong. It just doesn’t get me going.

  48. Jacob Ebelher says:

    I think I got an OSR bingo here. We got ourselves self-aggrandizing statements, we got nostalgia goggles as thick as anything, we got blatant “One-True-Wayism” all over the place, and a complete lack of understanding about how and why people enjoy these “newer” types of games. I mean, the author seems to want to both pat himself on the back for being born in the 60s, while telling off anyone who would actually enjoy something he doesn’t as lifeless non-roleplayers who just want to punch things.

    I’m especially loving whole “but OD&D was a PURE and NON-COMMERCIALIZED thing of beauty!” while completely ignoring how a glut of product killed TSR and these more “pure” D&Ds. And see, this is the thing about OSR. People who like it don’t stop at say “yeah, I like this stuff better”; they get up on their soapbox and weave tales of how perfect and amazing D&D was before the evil WotC and Hasbro made something different, in a tone that would be ironic if they didn’t believe it so hard. OSR has done a lot of good things, but posts like this represent an undercurrent of elitism that just oozes from it’s fans. It’s pretty shitty to see people in the same hobby take a shit on people who do things different.

  49. Halloween_Jack says:

    I didn’t start playing D&D until 3.5, and even I can tell what nostalgia-fueled gibberish this is. It’s pretty much the same thing that people told me about RPGs back in the eighties, that the rules weren’t that complicated and it was all about the imagination and roleplaying and blah blah blah… and then I actually tried playing a game with them, and the rules were as complicated as all holy fuck, and they were incredible sticklers for them. They’d played it until they could do so without really thinking about the rules, and I’m sure that if they’d been faced with a major revision of the rules–something that was intended to make the game more streamlined and easier for people to get into–that they’d have bitched endlessly about how it was ruined and it must be because the company had been bought out by another company that made some other kind of game and that the new owners were trying to make the RPG more like their own game. 

    That having been said, I do understand that there are a lot of people that were unhappy with 4e, and my own group didn’t make the jump, but went instead with Pathfinder, which basically took the 3.5 rules and fixed what needed fixing. Even with my relatively short history with RPGs, I can tell that it’s a solid improvement. 

  50. Matt says:

    Roleplaying is just a degenerate distraction from the true purpose of an RPG, which is to facilitate rules-lawyering. 

    The problem with the Wizards of the Coast rules is that M:TG has made them too good at anticipating tricksy rule-bending! Give me the glorious AD&D “first” (and only proper) edition any day, with the semi-conflicting Greyhawk Adventures sourcebook and an incomplete list of period-appropriate Dragon magazine addenda. 

    This is what a fun afternoon of D&D looks like, for those of you who’ve never played the game right.

    ME: My magic-user casts “Magic Mouth” on the door. The triggering event is a non-party member attempting to open it.
    DM: Okay. What do you want it to say when triggered?
    ME: It speaks the words of the verbal-only spell “Hold Portal” on the door.
    DM: You can’t have Magic Mouth speak the words of a spell! It says so right in the spell description!
    [the lights darken in the room and thunder booms outside as a gust of wind knocks over the DM's dice shield]
    ME: FOOL! Do you take me for some addlepated novice? There are ways this thing can be done that should be obvious even to your simple mind! Doubt me again at your peril!

  51. Ronald Stepp says:

    I used to play D&D and AD&D back when they first came out. I think those are great and are enhanced by the software available today. I always wished there were a better way to roll dice without carting around hundreds of them for some cases. The fact that you can use a smartphone now to roll dice, or illustrator and photoshop to make maps is awesome when you combine it with old-school D&D. You can have the best of both worlds today, where you can generate awesome play-aids AND role-play your heart out.

  52. Joe Lastowski says:

    While interesting, I feel like this article looks at D&D and other roleplaying games in a vacuum.  Current young players have been raised in a world of MMORPGs, so the current edition of D&D (4e) tried to reach out to them with things like balanced combat mechanics, because balance & combat are very important to that player base.  Does anyone remember the poorly-named “Million Gnome March” in WoW a few years ago, when players tried to overload a server with naked gnome characters because they felt that race was poorly balanced with the rest of the world’s races?  The 1970s version of the game was published at a particular time for a particular audience, but it’s doing a disservice to new players to only cater to that audience.  

    Even with power cards, roleplaying is more than possible.  As a 4e DM for the Encounters program, when a new player falls into the “just read the card” trap, I try to encourage description of how that power works… “What does your magic missile look like?” “How sly is that flourish” “What exactly do you say as your Cutting Remark?”  As players, my friends and I have had lots of fun putting flavor text on powers to make them thematic to our characters: Blade Barrier cast by a cleric of Knowledge becomes thousands of pages flying in a wall that do multiple papercuts to those who pass through the wall, etc.  The mechanics are still balanced, because that’s what the system designers did with that system, but the flavor and storytelling are still more than possible.

    Sure, 4e has plenty of flaws, but I think that the challenge for game designers now is not how to best force old editions or mechanics on players, but how to take what worked in older editions and translate it into new systems that will give everyone the framework to have fun in their adventure stories.  I don’t think D&D Next does this, because they decided to throw that balance nonsense out the window in favor of catering to older players’ memories.  But there are many systems that do (ahem 13th Age ahem), and I look forward to playing those in addition to the fun I continue to have with 4e.

    • Russell Jackman says:

      [quote] Even with power cards, roleplaying is more than possible.  As a 4e DM
      for the Encounters program, when a new player falls into the “just read
      the card” trap, I try to encourage description of how that power
      works… “What does your magic missile look like?” “How sly is that
      flourish” “What exactly do you say as your Cutting Remark?” [/quote]

      Which, while all well and good, means nothing in combat and slows the game down as it stands. I wholeheartedly agree on flavor texts aand what have you, especially for out of combat actions, but in 4th adding any form of personalization or drawn-out description of your actions either A: invokes mechanics to counter them if the description is more than what little flavor text the power has printed, or B: slows the already achingly slow combat to a crawl. As far as I have been able to determine, and this has so far been born out by my group (most of whom have only played 4th edition), doing anything other than simply rolling initiative, waiting your turn, and reading off your card painfully invokes A, B or both.

      • Joe Lastowski says:

        True enough.  4E has lots of serious pacing problems.  I’ve tried to counter the time spent on flavor by having folks optimize their time in other ways (roll attack & damage together, plan your move when I tell you you’re “on deck”, etc), but timing remains one of the huge flaws of 4E.  Still, if a player knows that her at-will wizard psychic attack power looks like ghostly ravens attacking the enemy, she can say “I send the ravens after him” just as fast as “I use X Power on him”.  It’s a balance, and it doesn’t work with all players.  But it’s one possible way to sometimes add some narrative to the combat grind.

  53. Ryk Spoor says:

    How… bizarre. I mean, really bizarre. Your article makes statements that are as far as I can see the *opposite* of what happened.

    Wizards’ of the Coast’s Third Edition (3E) was vastly superior to all the ones that came before, ESPECIALLY in supporting roleplay. It eliminated the worst clumsinesses of the prior editions, offered a lot more flexibility for characters in its most basic form than any of the prior editions had, and in general supported the PCs ability to Just Do More.  Prior editions forced all characters into specific molds that were heavily restrictive, and penalized players who preferred to play something that wasn’t very specifically IN that mold; no sword-swinging mage for you, nor can your fighter use a little magic once in a while.

    Roleplaying is, ultimately, on the players and GM, of course, but if one’s going to point to ANY of D&D’s editions as encouraging it, that would be either *original* D&D — the three booklets — because it had so few rules you HAD to make up new ones, or 3E, because it explicitly gave you so many more choices and capabilities.

    Now, Wizards’ 4E (fourth edition) severely changed the game to something entirely different, and in my view was trying to emulate MMORPGs in some area, but by that point it wasn’t really “Wizards of the Coast”, but a branch of Hasbro.

    • joshualyle says:

       Sort-of. In Type-0, your Magic-User could ride a horse. I mean, it didn’t say so explicitly, but you totally could.

      In Type-III, your Wizard might be able to ride a horse, if you remember to put points in ride not put a low score in Dexterity. If you didn’t, it becomes a gotcha when everyone in the party is buying mounts.

      But that’s okay. What I really miss in Type-III is rules for sailing around in boats and building a gang and conquering the wilderness. The “Stronghold Builder’s Guidebook” doesn’t really hold a candle to “Underworld and Wilderness Adventures”.

      •  In 3.x, anyone can ride a horse. The Ride skill is really only needed for attempting to ride while in combat or to ride something that is “unsuited for use as a mount”.

        Aren’t weapon proficiencies a better example of pre-3.x incarnations being superior? As I know a standard lament was that folks had to spend a feat in order to allow their wizard to wield a greatsword and throw fireballs.

        • joshualyle says:

           Whoops, I had a line about that and lost it in editing. Yes, you are correct. However, 0e magic-users could ride horses in combat, too.

          IIRC, no published proficiency system prior to 3e actually let magic-users/wizards become proficient with greatswords using rules-as-written (2e and BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia specifically restricted the weapons wizards could become proficient in). 3e is actually much more forgiving than the pre-3e proficiency systems, in my observation.

          I’m not knocking the customization possible in 3e. I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit at one time or another. It just comes at a great cost, particularly for referees.

  54. avt_tor says:

    Well I remember when the three staple-bound books were in a brown box–the white box came later–so I get the whole nostalgia thing. One can talk about storytelling versus combat, role-playing versus rule-playing, this edition versus that, but it boils down to the basic design flaws in D&D and AD&D: random character generation and unbalanced character classes. Role-playing games are games, which is to say they are shared activities that people participate in, but the design flaws worked against this. If you “rolled up” a better character on the day of character generation, you were the hero and the other players became sidekicks; you played the game and they got to watch you play the game. Some of the spellcasting classes were almost useless at low levels, so again, they got to watch other people play the game while they hoarded their scant powers for the moment where they might participate in the narrative. Looser rules (or obviously flawed rules) made it possible and sometimes necessary for the DM to create or improvise situations that allowed the other players to usefully play the game. Some people remember their participation fondly. As a game, and/or a medium of interactive storytelling, it was about the group overcoming challenges together by each having their share of hero moments where their action, initiative, deductive ability, and creative talents made a difference in the outcome of what happened. Complex, consistent, or not, some people put a lot of effort into knowing the rules so that they’d find some opportunity to accomplish something, while others found rules that didn’t allow them to act or that relegated them into inferior roles (in a role-playing game) an annoyance, leaving them a preference for looser rules. The ones who got the good rolls liked being the hero. D&D was popular because it assimilated all the popular (Tolkeinesque) tropes and had a lot of supporting material and (sometimes) great art which inspired the imagination of players. But many other game designers saw the obvious flaws and found workarounds, either by offering more discrete and diverse options to players or looser and more free-form guidelines to gamemasters. The other random aspects of the game, combat, saving throws, and so on didn’t unbalance the game because the law of averages would apply over time, but random character generation was a consistent problem. Gamers wanted to play the game, together. A good set of rules supports that.

    • joshualyle says:

      In the brown books random statistics are of such little import they could be dropped and you’d almost not notice, despite how iconic they are. Having a fighter with 3 strength will be mechanically tougher than a fighter with 18 strength if the later misses a session once in a while, as the only effect is a slight modifier to experience gains.

      Between classes, the magic-user’s dagger does the same damage and has the same chance of hitting as the fighter’s two-handed sword. However, neither can afford to rely on them, as a lucky shot will leave them dead. So, it’s left to they cunning of the players to avoid getting in that situation.

      And that is a legitimate complaint. Not everyone wants to sit down and need to be cunning. I know I often don’t have it in me. But when I can step up, it’s a pretty great experience.

  55. kid_amazo says:

    Author here. I am amazed at the response to this article and I appreciate the flame-free discussion. I want  to again apologize for not giving credit to WoTC for the OGL and how much creativity and flexibility that spawned. My understanding is that the new license (GSL) for 4th edition is a little less open, but at least there is something in place.

    And I readily admit there is a lot of retroactive nostalgia going on here. It’s nice to remember how much I loved my Atari 800 with 32k, but trying to use one of those today would  be fun for about ten minutes. But I think in regards to the OSR it not just about looking back, but about going back and re-adpating those ideas to the present by using tools like digital publishing, print-on-demand, blogs, and yes, the OGL.

    • Tim H says:

       It’s completely unfair to compare OSR to your Atari, it’s not the capabilities of the systems and the designers that have changed but the fundamental intent and structure of why you play.  If we are comparing old to new D&Ds we’d be better off to compare them to game lines which sacrifice flexibility and wonder for higher graphics and a freakish fixation on play balance.

  56. Ryan Gossen says:

    In the 80s, my friends and I took the basic ideas of preparation and role-play from D&D, but used only dice and binder paper as game artifacts. Everything else was storytelling. We still called it D&D but it could be any universe/s. Sometimes the Quest prepared by the GM was completely rejected by the participants, and the context of the game was re-negotiated as we went through doors that had not been imagined yet. This could go on all night long. If we needed to represent an individual, an object, or environment, we would sketch it. After doing this once, I couldn’t figure out why anyone would intentionally constrain a game with physical artifacts. If you want to be an Elf, be an Elf, a lot of people are into that. If you want to be a transvestite Elf with +5 Prada and a rubber chicken, that is no more difficult to represent,  you just have to negotiate with your fellow players. As a teenager, it was like being allowed back into the immersive pretend play of early childhood.

    Of all the game playing experiences I had growing up, I cant think of any that better prepared me to contribute to a meaningful job and have rewarding relationships.  The only shortcoming of this anarchistic approach is its inability to make money for anyone.

  57. Nicholas Bergquist says:

    We have an aging hobby which is suffering from its first generation reaching their middle-age years, experiencing a mid-life crisis, and seeking out the memories of youth to help them through. We have a younger generation that has grown up in a market saturated with fantasy and in direct competition to the much easier entry-level access world of video games. On top of all of this is the ever-present highly-narcissistic hardcore nerd culture which has lost all sense of perspective or sense of reality (i.e. idiotic edition wars), and to which the interent is an enabler. WotC is doing what it can to survive in this crazy market, and I think they’re doing a pretty decent job, all things considered. 

  58. Nicholas Bergquist says:

    Also, the author seems to have conveniently left out the real reason for the OSR movement being possible: WotC’s use of the OGL with 3rd edition. Without it, you wouldn’t be making a D&D emulator, you’d have to file all the serial numbers off, and the result would be a pile of mechanics that can’t look anything at all like D&D. The author needs to study up on the legal issue of rule mechanics, as well. A D20 mechanic as a resolution mechanism with a spread that operates on increments of 5% probabilities is the sort of mechanical implementation that can’t be copyrighted. “+1 to constitution” is a lot more specific and can be seen as an infringement to a specific game. However, thanks to WotC’s Open Gaming License the requisite agreement was in place to allow OSR rule-writers to take the framework of 3rd edition and back-propogate the mechanics and fluff to the desired earlier states without legal issue. 

  59. pseckler says:

    The deceptive thing (deceptive on both sides) is that it really isn’t about rules, it’s about procedures. You nailed it in this article when you described it as pushing your miniature around. At it’s core, that was what 4e became. That’s not all 4e was- but that IS what it became. (Read the 4e DMG and it’s got great articles about making cool backgrounds for your character and improvising scenes and all kinds of neat stuff you could use in any RPG, any edition). But by the time people were really into 4e, it was exactly as you described: DM procedures are a matter of the Dm reading a block of intro text, laying out a board, everyone taking their turn, moving their guy, executing whatever ‘actions’ they got on their turn…and the monsters are carefully set up to be an almost even team with the players. .. which, the nasty slur has always been 4e was like WoW, but thats untrue. Final Fantasy Tactics, though.. well it’s not far off. And 4e rules did *not* hinder you from roleplaying despite the slur- it just didn’t give you much opportunity to do it. Either the Dm is reciting the box text, you are making plans for which encounter to do next, or you are in combat.. there just wasn’t as many opportunities to be in character.  Pathfinder, by the way, has the same issues. 3.5 has the same issues (subtle difference in 3.0 to 3.5 was the definition of the ‘swift’ action, which kinda became the ‘minor’ action in 4e, and got us on the trail of having X# of actions, plus a strictly defined “5 foot step”).  In 3.0 you could “move and attack”. This is why it is deceptive on both sides, because I think 3.5 and Pathfinder fans would like to see themselves as members of a more traditional community, but they aren’t really. When it came time to address this state of affairs, how did the community and WOTC respond? Errata. They thought the issue was in the rules. So first they changed the skill challenge DC numbers. So instead of rolling over an 11 you had to roll a 13. (and so on). And for monsters, they made the monsters a little tougher, and changed a bite attack from 1d6 to 1d8+2 or something. And then it was Errata every week for weeks. And the net result was it changed nothing.
    At the very end everyone declared victory, but the DM-eliminating procedures that had become ingrained by this time were what made 4e such an unhappy experience. Any good Dm who recognized this could work around it by the way, by just altering the procedure, by directly engaging the players not via rules but via just..interaction. Like you would in any version of D&D.. or any other RPG. But few did- almost nobody in organized play did. I know this, I was involved in WOTC Organized Play for several years and tried desperately to convince people to try  to handle things in a more interactive way. I suggested a DM mentorship program and restructuring of how adventures could be written so that the Dm at the table could be more interactive with his players… I was ignored. I was shouted down. I was an extremely popular DM, both at conventions and at home, but by the time I saw the D&D Next playtest I was just heartbroken that they were going right down the same path. My final OP experience was I ran AD&D1e versions of Hidden Shrine and Dwellers of the Forbidden City.  D&D Next looks suspiciously like it will make many of the same mistakes- not in the rules. They are loosening those up in a lot of ways, but most of the same people are going to be “teaching us how to play” via blogs, social media, and whatnot.. and we are going to relearn all about preset encounters, map-tiles, and box text..again. On the plus side, I also think the era of the edition war is dead. It was sickening and self defeating era and there are better things to talk about. Here’s my greatest hope, though: Tunnels & Trolls is coming out with a new deluxe edition, and it’s going to rock. :)Cheers, Peter Seckler

  60. One of the older RPGs that survived for a while was Stephan Michael Sechi’s Talislanta RPG. Originally published by Bard Games–who also published the Atlantis RPG and the Compleat series of RPG aids–this game survived the demise of the original company. Wizards of the Coast picked up the game for the 3rd Edition of the game around the same time that Magic: The Gathering came out. Eventually WotC dropped it’s RPG lines to concentrate on it’s card games, only to buy TSR later. Talislanta languished in Limbo, but eventually it saw a 4th and 5th edition as well as a D20 edition. There were some foreign language editions as well.

    Sechi, after Morrigan Press failed, decided there was plenty of versions of the RPG available and wanted to concentrate on selling things such as art books and has expressed an interest in a computer game or MMO based on his world. He decided to release the entire line (excepting the foreign editions, IIRC,) for free download under the creative commons licence. There are a few books still needing to be scanned in and processed, but the vast bulk of material is available for free download at http://www.talislanta.com. The 1st through 5th editions are up as well as the d20 edition–though the d20 edition is better as a place to mine for Talislanta classes, races, and creatures for your other d20 campaigns. You can easily see how the game evolved and play your favorite edition.

    This is a great system and you have 5-6 editions to choose from–my favorite is the 4th edition with the Codex Magicus rules to tame the magic system. The world is unique: their tagline is “Still no elves!” It is a giant sandbox with enough information to spin your own tales and is run by a pretty light, but effective set or rules. There is a strong fanbase and some of the original people behind the game have been working on bringing out some of the unpublished source books out for free download as well.

    If anything, it’s worth a look for those who are not familiar with the game, Fans will be overjoyed at the care and attention put into these PDFs. This is not just simple scan and post–each book has been cleaned up, run through an OCR, and a good index has been added. Since these are free and legal copies, it is definitely worth a look. 

  61. direrodent says:

    Yes, it is so cool that AD&D and ONLY AD&D had a suggested reading lis… WAIT, WHAT’S THIS????

    AD&D DMG 1979

    Inspirational Source Material list, page B62 D&D Basic Set, 1981 edition

    Whew, at leas that’s the only factual error in this ….Wizards of the Coast ruined D&D with miniatures and map boards? REALLY? YOU CAN TYPE THAT WITH A STRAIGHT FACE?

    Check the subtitle of the Original D&D game:
    “Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and MINIATURE FIGURES”

    AD&D DMG, page 10: Use of Miniature Figures with the Game

    The early versions of the game in all respects assumed the use of Miniatures. The game itself derived from Chainmail, a miniatures wargame!

    And no, it was NOT copyright law that allowed the recent wave of OSR games. It was WotC’s releasing of the OGL and making the core elements of the D&D game “open source”.

    This pathetic excuse for an article is such thinly veiled drivel that I officially request it be renamed “Oh OSR PERSONAGES, PLEASE ALLOW ME TO GROVEL AND KISS YOUR COLLECTIVE ARSES.”

    • Talislanta didn’t have an actual reading list, but Jack Vance is given credit for inspiring some of the Talislanta RPG with his Dying Earth series. It’s now on my Kindle wish list along with a good collection of his work.

  62. My old DM blamed the change in RPG styles on video games changing how people look at a game. I thought that 4th Edition D&D was essentially the result of too much WoW influence on PnP gameplay. As a fan of Dungeons & Dragons Online, I have seen the game get adjusted a bit from the PnP rules to using mechanics that are better suited for an MMO. This does not translate as well going the other way. Yet I still love both MMOs and PnP games–I just look at them as essentially two different animals. 

    As direrodent pointed out, RPGs are an outgrowth of miniatures play, but the difference is that you are typically concentrating on one character instead of a group of units under your control. The game was built to delve deeper into the character itself. That being said, my old group did make good use of miniatures for when we saw combat. It was more for a visual reference on where we were vs the monsters and allowed us to better roleplay the fight. I think most people are upset at the idea RPGs stepping backward into a miniature/boardgame style of play. While there’s still plenty of room for miniature games, some of us are just looking for that classic RPG experience.

  63. derps says:

    Lots of pansie-ass derp responses here from neckbeards who get more bent
    out of shape at someone expressing a different opinion about D&D
    than they have than they do about someone making a fat/ugly joke about
    their sister (I would have said girlfriend, but then it wouldn’t be
    relevant).

    Holy $*&4, some of you need to CTFO and get some sunshine on that troll hide of yours.

  64. kid_amazo says:

    Author here again. The one thing I wish hadn’t gotten lost is that I love D&D. I love that it exists in whatever form.

  65. Eric Reiter says:

    rpgpundit? Does anyone take that attention whore seriously?

  66. GawainLavers says:

    I’ve never seen a Boing Boing article with more “(Edited by a moderator)” flags…

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      That’s odd because I’ve pretty completely ignored this thread.  “Edited by a moderator” means that I’ve fixed a link or repaired one of Disqus’s formatting clusterfucks.  Those tags aren’t supposed to show up.

  67. Dee Phillips says:

    It’s funny. I started with the glossy AD&D (1980) as nooby teens in that weird window when the jocks, cheerleaders and math/band camp nerds would all sit down and play this game together. Because the media was demonizing it.
    I find the Olde School Revival to be quaint and a valuable corrective to the tendency to over complexification. On the other hand, I missed out on the official second and third editions of the game, but I’ve played them both through the miracle of the computer games Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. I picked up a paperback rules compendium of the 4th edition and was struck how well done it seemed to me. I didn’t have years and dollars invested in D&D 3.5 like many who skewered 4th edition, so to me, flipping through that little $14 book I was struck how I could just have a whole ton of fun with nothing else but that book and my iPad (lots of dice apps out there).
    The point being that it really has come full circle without the WotC realizing it. You don’t need all those settings books really. In the 80s we knew the Greyhawk thing was available but instead we just made up our own setting whole cloth.
    Over and over again I see comments here about rolling the dice or not rolling the dice and are you really playing the game. It seems to me that if you want to ‘keep it real’ (or ‘low-fi’), dispense with the stacks of official product and get creative. I suspect more quality roleplaying grows from exploring big white spaces on the map your GM sketched out in Illustrator  than from arguing over something Ed Greenwood came up with 40 years ago.

  68. brant says:

    “Role-playing elements sank into a mire of charts and tables and special abilities. This rules-heavy play really took hold when, in the late 1990s, publisher TSR was suffering financially.”

    This alone is very inaccurate. Words spoken by someone who has clearly never opened up an early D&D book, which are infamous for their charts for everything. The late-era TSR stuff is nothing in comparison to previous editions. As late as the early 1990s you could buy a Rules Cyclopedia, a “basic” D&D game that is governed end-to-end by chartpocalypse.

  69. You should source your bloggers better. The RPGPundit, aka. John Tarnowski is a well known cyber stalker, sexist, racist, plagiarist. 

  70. RPGPundit says:

    Its funny to see the number of Anti-RPGPundit comments on here.  “he’s been banned from most major gaming forums”; actually from like, two, and he’s the Owner/Operator of one of the major RPG discussion forums where thousands of members engage in dozens of threads every day.  “No one takes him seriously”: Wizards of the Coast does. They’ve hired him to be a consultant on 5e D&D.
    I’d say plenty of people take the Pundit seriously, given that some people have clearly come to post comments on here that otherwise have no interest whatsoever in the OSR or the original article. Some to engage in outright slander.

    Anyways, in reference to how I was quoted in the article, its not inaccurate but its certainly incomplete. My criticism of the “OSR-Taliban” was a criticism made BECAUSE I love old-school and what it can be when used positively. The OSR was, at the time, stuck in a kind of clone-mania, and being heavily influenced by people who just wanted to shut out anything that wasn’t already extant prior to some arbitrary cut-off date (usually 1979, but it could vary).  In contrast, what has now become by far the more dominant influence of the OSR, and the REASON why it has become big and influential enough to be having a massive impact on mainstream RPGs (with things like the reprint, and known Old-Schoolers like both Zack S. and myself being hired on by WoTC to help shape the new edition of D&D; as well as the phenomenon of games that clearly are NOT old-school trying to adopt the outer trappings of what looks like old-school product or even label themselves OSR in an attempt to leech off the movement’s success) is all due to the OSR’s (other) quality of wanting to be extremely innovative WITHIN a specific framework.

     Like certain genres of art or schools of design, the modern OSR has produced masterieces by working within the set of “rules” of game design of what constitutes old-school while thinking up utterly new applications (LotFP, DCC, Stars Without Number, Majestic Wilderlands, Red Tide, Mutant Future, and dare I mention Arrows of Indra?), games that do not look anything like a “clone” of any specific pre-1983 game but are absolutely do follow the rules structures of that Old-School concept.
    This is contrast to either the wretched reactionary fervor of that extreme cave-dwelling wing of the old-school movement, who have nothing new to say; and to the almost nihilistic pretentious drivel you saw from movements like the Forge, who had plenty to say but none of it good.

    The OSR-ideal is not “only the Old and nothing else”, nor can it be “absolutely anything goes”; rather, the formula that has led to its explosive success and influence is “Within Old-School, anything; outside Old-School, nothing”.

     

    • –This is contrast to either the wretched reactionary fervor of that extreme cave-dwelling wing of the old-school movement, who have nothing new to say; and to the almost nihilistic pretentious drivel you saw from movements like the Forge, who had plenty to say but none of it good.–

      And then you whine about people slandering you.

  71. RPGPundit says:

    No, “slander” was when your buddy Amado called me a plagiarist in a now-deleted comment. (and a homophobe, racist, sexist, etc).

  72. Mike says:

    Is it just me, or does anyone else see a parallel between D&D and the dynamics shift in WoW?

  73. Yea, pretty much what I thought when I read the title. Like some others have said, you don’t need rules to roleplay and having more rules doesn’t inhibit roleplaying in the least. What it DOES do is help give players an understanding of how to better interact with the world with less variables. It relies less on DM fiat for the run-of-the-mill stuff in RPGs and lets them focus far more on the story. Further, it keeps things balanced and has far less contradiction when it comes to governing the game. 

    Now, there are comparisons to things like MMO that I don’t believe were good for D&D. Even as a 4E fan I have a dislike for magic item dependency. I’m not too keen on numbers porn, such that at 14th level your attacking for +23 to-hit and dealing somewhere in the low 70′s to 100+ damage a turn. High numbers do not (for me) = a requirement for showing character growth. 

    I think the only thing that can be taken away from articles bashing the newer editions of the game is that it changes the playstyle. Players of older editions are more used to critical thinking skills and heavily metagame because the system sorta promotes it. When you don’t have codified powers or rules to lend you character “might” then your often forced to think outside the box to achieve the same parity of the codified mechanics within the system. A 2E Fighter, for example, cannot really do anything exceptional unless the DM agrees to it when the Wizard can cast X spell and by-pass DM fiat or as some like to call it “DM may I” syndrome. So because of that, it falls under the players mind and mentality for creating a fun character that does cool stuff. 

  74. fellafell says:

    Huh? Wha?  The biggest criticism is, using the old rules is “without any kind of creative impetus to push roleplaying into new territories”. That’s the biggest criticism? Really?

    Are we talking about marketing executives working on the latest gewgaw or groups of friends having fun together? I don’t think I’ve heard more misplaced “criticism”, so if that id the biggest one then criticizing OSR doesn’t really seem to  amount to anything.

  75. sneeze says:

    The old game was very DM dependent. There wasn’t a rule for everything, and the sandbox style meant that players weren’t always channeled to the next encounter, even within a dungeon, and you didn’t know how the players would approach an encounter once it started. So that meant an ability to improvise was a necessary talent. A lot of encounters in modules required their own simple but unique rules to run them, which I think encouraged DMs to make up a chance for X to happen and roll the dice. But if your DM constantly said, “There’s no rule for that, therefore you can’t do it,” then the lack of rules came across as a problem. (There should have been a section in the rulebook on how to respond “yes, but” or “yes, and” and never “no” to players’ ideas.) And a DM could easily dampen players’ interests by being too tough or too generous. The players too, if they figured out combinations of spells or magic items that allowed them to bypass carefully prepared encounters altogether, could dampen the DM’s interest. (Figuring out ways to block this kind of play was the subject of a lot of articles, as I recall.)

    I haven’t played 4e, but my son has and I’ve read the rules, and it seems to have been designed to eliminate the need for  improvising during encounters and also to codify the amount of treasure and the toughness of monsters. Whether this leaves the DM with simply less to do or more time to do other things is a matter of how you approach it, but it does reduce the “anything could happen” feel and seat-of-the-pants improvisation. Players used to make it up as they went along more, and now everything has pretty much been decided beforehand, so its more a matter of strategy within a known system of mechanics. There is more balance now, whereas in the old system the challenge of creating balance was the DM’s duty; some found it engaging, some didn’t really realize they were supposed to be doing it. 

  76. Nerd Fundamentalism? Engage in hyperbole much? 

    Instead of trying to tear something you don’t understand down why don’t you watch and listen those who aren’t against these games.

  77. Chimpinalls says:

    In Jr High in the 70′s, I started playing the first edition (white box) and played only through the early days of the hardbound books (players handbook, monster manual and DM guide). I don’t even recognize the game as it is today.  We were all about improvisation, creating our own characters and our own wolds. The rules were just a suggestion to begin with and our games existed in a world where the probability that a certain action would succeed depended more on how funny it was than on some table in a book. we had one character whose class was “village idiot” and another who was a dim witted barbarian who through lycanthropy would become an erudite and highly intelligent were-rabbit. Sure we didn’t follow the rules  but it was a lot of laughs wit good friends. Happy to see the movement in RPG to get back to the roots.

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